The fascination with toy trains has had a very rich history, even though a little tumultuous, as you’ll find in the course of this article. While real trains began a little further back in 1804, toy trains only began choo-chooing down miniature rail lines some years after in 1900.
Lionel trains were the pioneers of toy trains, and for as long as many can remember, they have brightened the childhoods of millions. These days Lionel trains are some of the most valuable antiques. In this article, I will introduce you to 15 of the most valuable Lionel trains ever sold.
Table of Contents
15 Most Valuable Lionel Trains Ever Sold (Price List)
Lionel Standard Gauge
700 E Hudson Brass Prototype
Black 2360 Vagell GG1
Lionel Girls Train Set
Big Brute Electric Engine
Lionel No. 2169 W.S Freight Set
Lionel’s 100th Anniversary 24k Gold 700 E Hudson
Contemporary Lionel Brass No. 7 Steam Engine
Halloween General Set
Lionel’s Sears Christmas Set
Lionel Prewar Standard Gauge Gray 400E Steam Locomotive
Lionel Pre-War Mickey Mouse Circus Train Set
Lionel O gauge NO. 296 Electric Passenger Train Set
Lionel 238e 6-1852 Pennsylvania Torpedo
Lionel Disney Mickey Mouse Express Set
1. Lionel Standard Gauge
Price sold: $250,000
This is the most expensive train ever sold. It was manufactured in 1934 by Lionel Corporation. It is about their most iconic train in the array of sets that were made. The auction sale happened in 2016 when it was sold for a whopping $250,000.
Until then and after, no other model train set has been sold that high. It is easy to comprehend how this sale happens when you consider that the train set is more than 8 decades old. If you have this train of antiquity, you have to admit that it is worth the price considering how many lives it has enriched with its presence.
However, pieces of Lionel Standard gauge trains continue to be sold on online marketplaces and auction sites. For this reason, you might find differences in price quotes that are cheaper than this peculiar sale here. For example, the standard gauge has been estimated at $15,000 to $20,000.
2. 700 E Hudson Brass Prototype
Price sold: $77,000
This prototype was originally intended for storefront display (more on this presently) making it bigger than other train models. It was owned by Joshua Cowen in the 1900s. He was the co-founder of Lionel Corporation at the time.
The engine is made almost entirely of brass making it a very peculiar and unique piece of art. It is easy to imagine too how these pieces of toy sets are so expensive. It’s got a lot to do with the sentiments of the train once being a personal property of one of the men who founded the company itself.
The owner of this set probably touches this train on the same spots where Joshua Cowen’s hands once had done the same thing. It was sold for $77,000. Apparently, there’s only one of this Brass Prototype. The black edition was sold for $1,550.
3. Black 2360 Vagell GG1
Price sold: $2000
This is an extremely rare Lionel train model as there are only 8 of them on earth. And if you are a collector of rare items, you know that the rarer the item, the more valuable and expensive it is.
According to tradition, in 1962 Bill Vagell who loved Lionel model trains wanted really black trains so he bought a few of them and hand-painted 8 himself.
He left out two, gold and copper designs. Lionel designed the trains, penciling the letters on them. According to the same story, there were a few correspondences involving letters from Vagell making these requests and those from Lionel constituting his response. (See pictures above)
The original letters disappeared a long time ago and what we have is only a picture. You can be sure that whoever has the originals with them will get one of the biggest deals—should they be interested in selling, that is—in the history of deals.
The Black 2360 GG1 train models were made in 1927, this Black edition with the imprint of Vagell on it was sold for $2000. Auctioneers at invaluable estimate the models to be worth between $10 to $10,000.
4. Lionel Girls Train Set
Lionel balanced things up between the genders by making this set for girls in 1955. The set was a chick, with colors that set off a girl’s room with pink and light blue. While other trains made by Lionel were painted in more masculine colors like black and red, these were different.
But it seemed that girls were barely taken in by this attempt to appeal to the feminine because sales never rose and Lionel had to discontinue production of it. This means there are few of them, which in turn means they are rare and expensive. It ranks as the next most valuable because it sold for $3,900. It sells cheaply on ebay for $494.10.
5. Big Brute Electric Engine
As antique as they get, this green locomotive was called Brute because its features made it heavier than most of the other models. Coincidentally, this weight problem achieved an unintended consequence: children were hardly able to lift them so they mostly remained stationary, as if left out in the storefront, which was the real intention of Lionel model trains, to begin with.
This train once sold for $2,900. But there are many auction markets, and they all have a way of getting collections, so if you wish to buy a Brute try here were a boxed set sold for $800.
6. Lionel No. 2169 W.S Freight Set
The freight set which was made in 1950 was a remote-controlled unit, one of the few in its time. It came with a Hudson engine style. It had a matching number 2526 whistle tender, a Lehigh valley Hopper, an automatic dump car, a flat car, and a caboose. It sold for $1,600.
7. Lionel’s 100th Anniversary 24k Gold 700 E Hudson
Price sold: $1,350
According to the lore, Josh Cowen favored the New York Central’s J-Class 4-6-4 Hudson. This Lionel train was modeled after the real train.
This limited edition was produced by the company to celebrate its 100th year in the business of making train models. This edition comes with a 24k gold plating. This model allows the owner to have a close-to-reality experience. It smokes and makes real rail sounds. It sold for $1,350 at auction.
8. Contemporary Lionel Brass No. 7 Steam Engine
Sold price: $1,050
This locomotive from Lionel is a reproduction first made in 1910 and is in a pristine state. It features a steam-type engine, brass, and red paint coated. It is vintage and was valued at between $300 and $600 but eventually sold for $1,050.
9. Halloween General Set
This is an extremely rare catch for any collector. The postwar model was first sold to the Druggist Service Council. Those who had the firm’s catalog could see a picture of it there. This was back around 1960. This Lionel train was sold for $449.
10. Lionel’s Sears Christmas Set
This Lionel model was valued at $300 to $500 but was eventually sold at $300. It is about the most unusual of the models on this list. It comes with a tank car, toots, and a voice dispatcher.
It even features animals and a windmill, to give you a realistic feel.
11. Lionel Prewar Standard Gauge Gray 400E Steam Locomotive
Here’s another train worthy of being on our list of most valuable lionel trains ever sold. Valued at $10 to $1,400 but sold for $1,050. This prewar train was made in 1931. It’s got a copper trim and boiler bands with reproduction air tanks. It comes with original wheels too.
12. Lionel Pre-War Mickey Mouse Circus Train Set
The original box contains the locomotive, a stoker tender car, a “Mickey Mouse Circus” car, a “Circus Dining Car”, and “Mickey Mouse Band” car, the tracks (two straight sections and six curved), a paper circus tent, and assorted cardboard cutout pieces.
The original packaging as well as all of the accessories are exceedingly rare and seldom seen today. You can’t even buy them online because they sold out so quickly.
13. Lionel O gauge NO. 296 Electric Passenger Train Set
This Lionel train is an O gauge set and comes with all the boxes. It’s got a locomotive, Pullman passenger car, and observation car, all lighted. It was made in the 1920s and valued at $415.97.
14. Lionel 238e 6-1852 Pennsylvania Torpedo
Lionel discovered this train in 1995 molding in their archives. They brushed it up and remounted it on a smooth pulmore six-wheel worm drive from a B6 switcher. It made the rear sounds and here we are today with this collector’s gem. It’s got all the things that make Lionel trains the darling they are: smoke, name boards, and illumination. Its price is $429.
15. Lionel Disney Mickey Mouse Express Set
This rugged toy is from 1977 and it costs $325. It celebrates not just Lionel trains tradition but that of the American Mickey Mouse cartoon. It is a merging of almost unrelated characters, cartoons, and machines. It comes in a box containing Mickey and Donald figures, four removable tools, metal wheels, forward and reverse remote controller.
The History of Lionel Trains
The Lionel corporation was founded in New York City in 1900 by Joshua Lionel Cowen and Harry C. Grant. When it began the company was an electrical novelty maker. Things took a turn when the first train the company made, the Electric Express, a storefront display train drew a crowd who wanted more like it.
The train ran on a brass track, powered by a battery, and a motor designed for an electric fan. The plan by Cowen was to have the train fascinate the public and make them want to buy the company’s real goods that were on sale. But the public wanted to buy the trains instead. Thus was born Lionel trains.
Lionel Cowen went to make and sell 12 Electric Express trains. Lionel changed the way toy trains were being made. For example, in 1906, Lionel began making three rail tracks with outer rails that were 21/8 inches apart. This method didn’t match any established standards used by other manufacturers since 1891. Lionel called his own specifications Standard Gauge and trademarked it.
By the time the first world war came to an end, Lionel trains were the third major US toy train manufacturer. Lionel train company grew as they started linking the trains with Christmas by having department stores adding Lionel trains to Christmas tree displays. And of course, Lionel made his trains bigger than competitors. Lionel targeted realism and sold the trains to the dream-prone audience of children.
Lionel painted his trains in bright and unrealistic colors, his reason being that his customers were mothers who bought the trains for their children. Bright colors attracted women.
How To Date Lionel Trains
Collecting antique trains is some people’s hobby. And for some, it is simply a form of business where they buy old toy things like trains and sell them at auctions. At any rate, if you are starting out as a new collector interested in collecting trains, you are likely aware that the older antiques are, the more valuable.
Metal Plaque Under Or On The Side Of The Train
Knowing the precise age of a Lionel train is important. It helps you know the potential worth of the train. You don’t have to dismantle the train to find the year or was made. It is usually embossed on a metal plaque stuck on the underside of the train. And if you don’t find the date on the underside, then you may have to then dismantle the train.
The locomotive is another key part of the train where you can find dating ideas. The locomotive is the part of the train where the engine is situated. The locomotive drives or moves the whole train forward and in the case of Lionel toy trains, it is where the electrical mechanisms are. It is only fitting that you find the date of manufacture there, either on the side or on the underside.
Another key place to check for dating information is the tender of the Lionel train. The tender usually follows the after or is attached to the locomotive. It is a special car that hauls the locomotive’s fuel.
In the case of Lionel toy trains, it is empty. Well, you get the point. Sometimes, tenders get detached from their locomotives in many toy trains. If the Lionel train you purchased still has its own tender, it may be a good idea to check it for dating information if you can’t find it on the locomotive.
The Original Box
A Lionel train box
If your Lionel train box is original, then it will likely have the year the train was made written on it. In the heyday of Lionel trains, many likely didn’t know the trains were going to be as iconic as they are now so many didn’t preserve their boxes.
Hence you can often find the boxes online being sold as antiques either along with the trains or as empty boxes. A Lionel train that comes with an original box commands a higher value. The older the train, the better. And you can find the date of manufacture written on the box.
Owners manual usually carries all the information that isn’t on the body of the train. If all else fails—the date has wiped clean off the body of the locomotive, tender, plaque on the underside, due to utter aging—then consult the manual. And if you can’t find the manual for your train set again because it’s been lost over the years, then you can go online and search by entering the name of the train on Google, and you will certainly find your answer.
Reach Out To The Lionel Corporation
It is possible that your train set is so old, or the one you purchased is, that you probably have just one car from the set. For some Lionel train owners, this is the case. Don’t give up. Simply reach out to the manufacturer for their support and make your inquiries. You can also contact them on the phone if you need your valuation faster.
How Much Are Lionel Trains Worth?
There are two sets of Lionel trains when it comes to value or how much they’re worth. The worth depends on whether it is a prewar or post-war Lionel train.
Furthermore, their worth is also influenced by their design and material. Lionel trains can cost anywhere from a few dollars, hundred dollars to thousands of dollars.
Prewar Lionel trains
These trains are Lionel trains that were made before the first world war. Their estimated value is between $10 to $20,000. Prewar trains have sold for $12,810.
The following are examples of prewar Lionel trains:
Lionel standard gauge prewar no. 378W
Lionel prewar standard gauge grey 400E steam locomotive
Lionel model train no42 locomotive prewar standard gauge
Post War Lionel trains
Lionel trains ceased production of trains to help the war effort. They resumed production again when the war ended in 1945. Post-war trains are less valuable, costing between $10 and $10,000.
The following are some post war Lionel trains:
Rare Black Lionel 2360 Vagell GG1, Post-War
1950 Lionel No. 2169 W.S. Freight Set
Post War Lionel No. 1626W Santa Fe
Pre-War Lionel O Gauge 251 Passenger Train
Lionel Post War Celebration Series 38096 #773
Where Can I Sell Lionel Trains?
There are a number of places you can sell your Lionel trains. First, make sure you have educated yourself about your Lionel train. This includes getting information about specific names, year of manufacture, and value. The following are places where you can sell your Lionel train:
One of the best places to sell your train is at shows specifically organized for the sale of model trains. At shows, you get to set your own prices and set them as high as you please. The downside is you have to wait for someone interested in buying at your price to come along.
You can get your Lionel train listed on ebay where buyers of antiques scour for stuff like your train. You do have to pay a fee though, 13% to 15% of the final price you sell your train for if you sell with a low price.
You can sell your train at live auction houses. If your train is in mint condition then you are likely to get high bids for your train.
This is one of the best places to sell your Lionel train. Online auctions yield slightly higher returns, and the effort required to get your train is minimal.
Sell To A Train Dealer
Selling to a dealer in Lionel trains is another avenue. It might yield low to average returns for you but the dealer now assumes the burden of doing all or some of the things outlined earlier to get the train sold again.
Who owns Lionel trains?
Lionel LLC is owned by Guggenheim Partners. Before this, it was owned by General Mills which bought Lionel trains in 1969.
Why are Lionel trains so expensive?
Lionel trains are expensive now because there’s no real competition for the trains in these modern times. Also, Lionel train is a prestigious name in the industry. And it is sometimes associated with another prestigious identity like the Polar Express train.
What are the different sizes of Lionel trains?
Lionel trains have trains that are called “O scale” trains. O scale is 1:4, which is the same as a quarter of an inch representing a foot in real life.
Today, Lionel has 1:48 scale trains. Lionel’s G-Gauge sets are approximately 1:24 scale.
Lionel’s HO gauge systems are 1:87 scale. The S-Gauge sets are 1:64 scale while the O-Gauge sets are approximately 1:48 scale.
Where are Lionel trains made?
In the 1930s Lionel made their trains in New Jersey. In 2001 Lionel moved production plants overseas to China while some are still made in the US.
Lionel trains have been a classic form of toy for decades now. Their lasting popularity is likely due to the classic beauty associated with these toys, and the fact that many of their models are antiques that people get attached to. A lot of these old-school trains are expensive and popular among collectors.
We hope you enjoyed learning about the most valuable Lionel trains ever sold, and that it proves useful for your collecting ambitions. However you choose to appreciate the history of these collectible trains, we wish you the best of luck in your collecting ventures.