model train set on track

“Warman’s Lionel Train Field Guide: 1945-1969”–by David Doyle

e*Train Issue: Apr 2006   |   Posted in:

Reviewed by Joseph H. Lechner

Before I saw a copy of David Doyle’s latest guide, I had no idea who Warman was, and I assumed a Field Guide would be a book from the Audubon Society with pictures of birds, insects, rocks or trees. It turns out that “Warman’s Field Guides” are an established series of pocket-sized books devoted to various genres of collectibles.

For the record, Edwin G. Warman (1915-1979) was an antiques collector who first published his price list in 1948 in response to numerous requests from friends and fellow collectors. “Warman’s Antiques and Their Current Prices” covered such collectibles as mechanical banks, pattern glass, furniture and silver. This price guide was well-received and eventually became an annual publication. After Warman’s death, his publishing business was sold first to Stanley and Katherine Greene (1981), then to Chilton Books (1989), and finally to Krause Publications (1997). “Warman’s Antiques & Collectibles Price Guide” is currently in its 40th edition.

Meanwhile, the Warman’s line has been expanded to include a series of “pocket-sized” field guides, all of which measure 5¼” tall by 4¼” wide and are 512 pages in length. I write “pocket” with a grain of salt. At 1¼” thick, this field guide will not fit into a shirt pocket, nor into a back pants pocket, where many “Yorkers” carry their toy train price guides. I suspect that hundreds of thousands of people keep a “Warman’s Field Guide” in the glove compartment of their automobile. These little books accompany Saturday-morning adventurers who scour garage sales and flea markets in search of elusive treasures from yesteryear. Titles in the “Warman’s Field Guide” genre include Barbie dolls; baseball cards; Beanie Babies; Beatles memorabilia; bobbleheads; bottles; clocks; Coca-Cola branded merchandise; comic books; Disney collectibles; Elvis memorabilia; fishing lures; G.I. Joe dolls; guitars; Hot Wheels; Hummel figurines; jewelry; kitchen collectibles; Little Golden Books; Matchbox toys; Pez candy dispensers; phonograph records; Star Wars items; U.S. coins; watches; and Zippo lighters. This is the first train-related book in the series.

“Warman’s Field Guide to Lionel Trains 1945-1969” is divided into eight sections:

O gauge locomotives and rolling stock (210 pages)

O gauge accessories, including track and transformers (76 pages)

O gauge cataloged sets (94 pages)

Lionel catalogs and paper (66 pages)

HO trains and accessories (19 pages)

Appendix (7 pages)

Glossary (2 pages)

Numerical index (17 pages)

On each two-page spread, the left-hand page contains full-color photos while the right-hand page lists catalog numbers, brief descriptions, estimated values, and Doyle’s rarity rating on a scale of 1 (dirt common) to 8 (stratospheric). A typical spread has three photos and 7-8 listings. It follows that only 40% of the listed items are pictured. Most of the illustrations previously appeared in David’s excellent “Standard Catalog of Lionel Trains 1945-1969”. Of course, the pictures are necessarily smaller in this field guide. Nearly all the photos are orthogonal views of the car or engine’s side elevation. This is usually helpful, although a side view of a two-unit diesel is not very legible when it has to be shrunk to fit on a 4” wide page. I wish locomotives could be shown in the “¾ wedge” view that was popular with photographers of prototype railroads. This was also how Robert Sherman usually drew Lionel locos in postwar catalogs. A great advantage of this format is that it would clearly show details on the engine’s nose. This field guide does include at least one ¾ wedge shot of a pair of #2350 New Haven electrics. Its caption fails to point out that one model has painted stripes on the nose while the other has a decal. “Standard Catalog of Lionel Trains” contains the identical photo, and the different decorating techniques are explained there.

The section on cataloged sets does contain new photos that have not previously been published elsewhere to my knowledge. These illustrations show both the contents of the set and also the packages (both individual item boxes and set cartons) in which they were sold. The sets that are illustrated cover the full range of box styles issued by The Lionel Corporation between 1945 and 1969. Collectors will welcome the increased emphasis on cataloged sets for two reasons. First, an estimated 60% of Lionel’s total sales were boxed train sets. When postwar trains emerge from the attics or basements of their original owners and first come to the attention of the collecting fraternity, most of what we discover in the hinterland will be complete sets. Second, pristine train sets in their original packaging are commanding unheard-of prices at train meets, on eBay and in other resale venues. I personally know of individuals who have paid $2,000 or more for an empty cardboard box. In this day and age, one cannot be a knowledgeable train collector without knowing what the carton is supposed to look like.

The rolling-stock, accessories and sets sections of this field guide are arranged strictly by catalog number. Other Lionel guides, including Doyle’s “Standard Catalog of Lionel Trains”, are organized into smaller sections by body type: all cabooses together; all diesels together; etc. In a field guide, numerical organization makes sense, because the first piece of information one usually ascertains about a piece is its cab number. On 98% of postwar Lionel trains, the catalog number was printed on the side; but not always. The ubiquitous Lehigh Valley twin hopper was cataloged under five different numbers (2456, 6076, 6176, 6456 and 6476), but the number actually printed on the car was always 25000. The most common two-dome Sunoco tank car (2465, 6465) bore no number at all. For collectors who are accustomed to seeing similar locomotives or cars grouped together, this field guide’s organization can be disconcerting. “O” and 027 versions of otherwise-similar locomotives (e.g. 2020 and 671 steam turbines; 2046 and 646 Hudsons; 622 and 6220 switchers) will be found many pages apart in this guide. One of the most awkward sequences is the catalog numbers from 2550-2560. Within a page or two, one finds four 16” aluminum Canadian Pacific passenger cars; two Budd RDC cars, a Sunoco tank car, and a sheet-metal operating crane car.

According to the publisher, prices in “Warman’s Lionel Train Field Guide” have been updated since “Standard Catalog of Lionel Trains” was published in 2004. To explore the changes, I looked up representative pieces in several “pricey” genres such as F3s, 6464 boxcars and boxed high-end train sets. Among F3s that I checked, prices for 2240 Wabash; 2242 New Haven; 2243 Santa Fe and 2363 Illinois Central had not increased; while prices for 2356 Southern; 2368 Baltimore & Ohio; 2373 Canadian Pacific; 2378 Milwaukee Road and 2379 Rio Grande did increase. In almost all cases, only the “Like New” price went up, while “Very Good” and “Excellent” prices remained the same. Prices for six representative 6464 boxcars (-1; -25; -325; -350; -825 and -900) did not change between 2004 and 2006. Finally, I looked at prices for five of the most highly-regarded cataloged postwar sets (1464W Golden Anniversary Union Pacific passenger train; 2148WS Hudson with Madison cars; 2270W Jersey Central Trainmaster passenger set; 2296W Canadian Pacific F3 passenger set; and 13150 Super “O” freight set with 773 Hudson). Only one price had been revised: the value for 2296W in “Excellent” condition went up by $1000, but the same set in “Like New” condition did not increase.

I could have done without the two-page, fourteen-term Glossary. A few of its entries (Magne-traction, heat stamping) are pertinent to Lionel trains, but others (AAR, hotbox) have no relevance to toy train collecting. The seven-page appendix titled “How to clean and prepare trains for use” is excerpted from two larger chapters in “Standard Catalog of Lionel Trains”. It only covers cleaning track and connecting the lockon. This information might be helpful to novices once they get their trains home, but a collectors’ field guide is not really the place for it. In any event, those who actually do need step-by-step instructions for setting up an electric train would also want the information on cleaning, lubrication, transformers, and E-unit operation, which is found in “Standard Catalog of Lionel Trains” but is not duplicated in this field guide.