May 23, 2018
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Toy train prices ride on specific makers, models and gauges

Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of
The war shirt worn by Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce tribe sold for $877,500 in a recent Coeur D'Alene Art Auction.
By Danielle Arnet, Tribune Media Services

Q: We inherited several boxes of antique trains, accessories and tracks. I think they are from the late 1930s or early 40s. I have no idea of their value or whom to contact for any more information. Can you help?

A: I assume the goal is to sell, but to achieve top dollar, our reader first has to do some rudimentary digging. Those toy trains could be either a burden or a bonanza.

In the vintage toy world, certain electric toy trains are as prized as boy toys go. Looking at recent auction results, a vintage circa 1947 Streamline Electrical Train by Marx Toys sold, with its original box and extra tracks, for $250. A generic set from the same era in its original box brought $80.

Smart collectors know that when it comes to toy electric trains, specific makers, gauges, and models matter. They know that parts and accessories also sell. A Marx/Lionel/American Flyer transformer from the late 40s recently brought $26 on eBay.

Specific trains bring astounding amounts. A very rare Marx Army Train from the 1940s, complete and in its original box, sold for $1,952 on eBay. I hope that’s one train our reader has.

The reader needs to start by examining completed prices on eBay, looking for trains and accessories similar to hers. With that kind of dollar potential, I suggest paying for short-term use of, a database that covers years of eBay and similar auctions. Don’t forget the free auction database,

If online research does not appeal, approach a trusted local antique toy dealer and take their word on value. Check them out first. Do not consign the toys to a general local auction unless/until you have a firm personal idea of value.

Q: Is my “The Household Magazine” from April 1932 worth much? Inside is a picture with a nurse smoking a Camel cigarette.

A: I wonder if you have the date right. Yes, Camel cigarettes did launch a doctor-centered ad campaign, but it was in the mid-1940s.

Definitely considered not politically correct today, ads then featured professionals in medical settings, wearing lab coats. Slogans included, “The Doctor Recommends” and “More Doctors Smoke Camels than any Other Cigarette, According to a Recent Nationwide Survey.”

By contrast, 1932 issues of the reader’s magazine featured Jean Harlow touting Lux soap.

Vintage tobacco ads are collected today, vintage magazines less so. Most of the value in old magazines lies in their ads or celebrity photos. On, we found that most Camel tobacco/medical personnel ads sold for $12 to $16.

Q: Is my purse valuable? It has “New York” written on it, also the skyline (Are the Twin Towers on it?), the Statue of Liberty, Central Park, an astronaut, a sailor, and sequins. Made in China.

A: The reader answered her own question. Kitschy purses made in China never have significant value. The bag is fun, not fashion.

On a positive note, if it is vintage or retro (to use an alternative term), it may appeal to a fan of vintage. In that case, value is under $25.

I can’t spot the towers, and their presence would not affect value significantly. They would be a good talking point for the seller, period.

Auction Action: The war shirt worn by Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce tribe while delivering his famous words, “From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever,” sold this summer for $877,500 in a Coeur D’Alene Art Auction held in Reno, Nev. The words are from a 1877 speech after surrendering to U.S. troops following an almost-2,000-mile journey from Oregon to Montana.

The shirt sold to a private East Coast collector. Sale total for the annual auction that specializes in classic and contemporary Western, sporting and wildlife art, was $17.9 million.

Collector Quiz

Q: Can you match the 20th century designer with their area of fame?

1. Norman Bel Geddes a. Glass

2. Edward Wormley b. Industrial design

3. Demetre Chiparus c. Furniture

4. Dominick Labino d. Memphis furnishings

5. Ettore Sottsass e. Sculpture

A: Granted, there is overlap, but the strongest associations are 1-b, 2-c, 3-e, 4-a, 5-d. Source: “20th Century Design” by Judith Miller (Miller’s/Mitchell Beazley, $19.99). Beautifully illustrated and loaded with info, the text highlights European and American masters. At the price, it’s a miracle.

Danielle Arnet will answer questions of general interest in her column. Send email to or write Danielle Arnet, c/o Tribune Media Services, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1400, Chicago, IL 60611. Include an address in your query. Photos cannot be returned.

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