Janet & Sherry the auction hunters: Day 4
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  • Janet & Sherry the auction hunters: Day 2
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    Auction Finds

    Janet & Sherry the auction hunters: Day 3

    My auction buddy Janet and I picked out five items at auction recently to see how well we’d do against some of the TV auction shows in choosing items that were valuable.

    I’ve blogged about our first two groups of choices: an American Eagle for her and a Hartmann suitcase for me, and three boxes of 1930s New Jersey license plates for her and an Edison Cylinder Phonograph for me.

    In our third picks, we chose the same item. In the middle of a large table in the auction house was a 2003 Lionel “Riding the Rails Hobo Train” set with accessories – all still in their boxes. We both knew that trains were very popular and had legions of collectors. There’s usually train cars, tracks, stations and transformers stuffed in boxes at practically every auction. In fact, an unrelated box of tracks were in a cardboard box on another table at this auction.

    Lionel hobo train

    The Lionel "Riding the Rails Hobo Train" and accessories.

    In addition to what was on top of the table, the auctioneer started pulling out boxes from under the table that we had overlooked. On top of the table were the hobo train and tracks, controller, two Erie train cars, a Christmas Tree Lot, a Hobo Campfire, an Operating Freight Station and several other items.

    There were a number of train enthusiasts waiting for this part of the auction to start, including a buyer who said he had grown up with trains. As a child, his father bought him a train at Christmas, he’d break it, and his father would buy him another one the next Christmas.

    He sells trains now in a friend’s shop and on the web to people all over the world, and has become an expert. Dealers contact him to see what trains and accessories he has on hand.

    The hobo train and its accessories still had their original boxes.

    Janet and Sherry’s pick

    Lionel “Riding the Rails Hobo Train”

    Lionel trains were first made in 1900, and anyone familiar – or not so familiar – with trains knows the name. It’s the tops, but other collectible trains are American Flyer and Marx.

    Lionel hobbyists have their own collector’s club, of course, that’s been around since 1970. On its website, the organization offered some advice on how to assess the value of a Lionel train: It depends on the condition of the train (dents, scratches, missing parts are a no-no), how rare it is and whether it has its original box. There are price guides, and the site warned that they are just guides.

    The Lionel site also has a guide for those interested in collecting its trains.

    Lionel train

    A Lionel steam locomotive, controller, Erie train and other accessories.

    The Lionel website offered a description of a similar hobo train, whimsically telling how one hobo tried to outrun the railroad bull (policeman) on an animated gondola, while two others tried to keep up with the train in a handcar, and another strummed on a guitar in a boxcar. The seven-piece set, which also included the campfire, was listed for $299.

    On eBay, the train set alone sold for $177 and $215. Several others did not sell.

    At auction, the man who turned his childhood hobby into a business jumped into the bidding – which started at $250 – but he stopped when it reached $300. “It wasn’t worth it after then,” he said. The train set and accessories topped off at $500.

    Estimated value: Hard to say since we didn’t see all of the accessories, but I’d say he paid the right price for it. Especially if he’s a collector and not a dealer.


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