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Exploring Lionel trains of the 1950s: Questions and Answers

Senior Editor Roger Carp answers Facebook viewers' questions about Lionel trains
Classic Toy Trains Senior Editor Roger Carp held court in a Facebook Live event on April 16, 2019, and answered questions about Lionel Trains of the 1950s from anyone on Facebook that day. We've uploaded a short discussion Roger had with the Facebook audience. We hope you enjoy it!

Find out more about Lionel Trains of the 1950s from our latest special issue. It is available from the Kalmbach Hobby Store.

Answer transcriptions courtesy of YouTube
Question: Is the girls' set still in demand?

Answer: Collecting-wise, the girls set, this is a set that Lionel brought out in 1957 in fact, I have an article about it in Lionel trains of a 1950s.

Lionel and in at that time in 1957 was trying to expand into new markets, new niches in the hobby and so the idea came about because they were aware that other toy companies had aimed products at girls. So they thought an easy way to do that would be to take regular production items and paint them in pastel colors that they thought would appeal to girls.

And they came out with an O-27 set number 1587s called the "Lady Lionel." And they cataloged it in 1957 and 58 and they hoped that girls would appreciate it.

As far as we know, about 5,000 examples were manufactured and it did not do well commercially. I don't think that Lionel lost a great deal of money on it because it was regular production items that they invested paint in.

Over the years collectors have been fascinated with the girls set and have gone out of their way to pick up items that came in it, particularly the two near-scale box cars.

So I think the demand for the girls set, again if it's genuine, it's in like-new or better condition, and it has its original boxes, I think the demand will always be there, because, in this case, demand is going to out run supply. So it's a good question and go for it.

Question: Is the Norfolk & Western "short striper set" rare now?

Answer: I don't use the word rare with any regular production items that's something that was talked about with me taught to me by Joe Algozzini who has been an outstanding contributor to classic toy trains. Again, from that second issue on he's, Joe is a good friend, he is an expert on post-war Lionel trains and he said to me early on, the word "rare" should be applied only to items that were not regular production.

They may have been engineering samples, they may have been paint prototypes, mock-ups, the kind of thing that were made in fewer than maybe 25 examples.

So I would use the word "scarce" and those Norfolk & Western they made a model of the 4-8-4, the Northern, the class "J." That was also part of 1957's product line.

It's a beautiful steam locomotive and it was put in five sets over the next three years. They're all highly in demand.

They were not made in large quantities, so, certainly, if you have the opportunity to find one with its original box and the items that came in it, it's going to go for a premium, will be highly desirable.

I don't know that I would use the word scarce with it, but it would be highly desirable and I would say by all means verify that it's all original.

Check with the seller. Be sure, if you're not satisfied, you can return it for a full refund and then go for it.

Question: Has the reproduction of the popular post-war accessories reduced the value of the originals or made them any less desirable? 

Answer: I think in many cases that is true certainly, if you're looking to build a layout and you want an operating accessory that will be reliable, dependable, not noisy, and is going to be really great for especially children to operate and enjoy, then I would go with one of the recent reproductions. Lionel has made them so has MTH electric trains.

So there are a lot of good ones out there.

If I'm looking to collect or I want to build a layout that has the original post-war feel then I am going to look for original accessories, operating ones: log loaders, coal loaders, platforms such as the 157, and they're plentiful. You can find nice ones at train shows and, of course, at Internet auction sites.

So, either way, I just don't think you can go wrong.

Question: Which post-war accessory is the most popular in sales, or on layouts?

Answer: The one that I see so much of, that would be the little street lamps were all over the place. The various signals, all over the place.

But I think the favorite and the one that was often the second purchase after a child got his or her train set was the operating gateman whether it's the number 45 in the years after World War II or the 145 that was cataloged continuously from 1950 till the end of the post-war era in 1969 it operates just as you would expect: the train goes by, the little man comes out of his house.

It's almost like a short movie and it's fun to watch. Always brings a smile and it to me it epitomizes the ingenuity and the cleverness and the entertaining value of Lionel trains.


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