After World War II, American GI train buffs stationed in Japan could not help but notice the high quality of the brass model trains being produced by local craftsman. Some of these GIs got to know the locals, sharing photos of their favorite hometown trains. Before long, these Japanese craftsmen were producing small-run or even one-of-a-kind brass trains for a new crop of American customers.

These early brass model trains, which today can bring tens of thousands of dollars at auction, were extraordinarily accurate and precise. They were completely hand-made, right down to individually hand-punched rivets. And they ran like a dream.

Most of the postwar brass trains were made in Japan in the HO scale—only relatively recently has the field been taken over by manufacturers in South Korea, although fully 80 percent of all brass model trains are still scaled to HO. But one thing about brass models trains has not changed: the very small size of the editions. Even today, it is not uncommon for a train to be made in batches of 150 or less.

In postwar Japan, the edition sizes were frequently as small as a handful. Importers like Max Gray, Pacific Fast Mail, and Westside Model Company brought brass trains made by Fujiyama, Nakamura, Tenshodo, Toby, and United to American shores. These trains from the late 1940s through the 1960s are some of the most collectible examples around.

While many collectors find it useful or just plain interesting to know the name of the manufacturer that made a particular brass model train, most choose trains for their collections based on the road, or train company name that they are collecting. So, for example, if you grew up on the East Coast, you may specialize in New York Central trains. Collectors in the Southwest often collect trains emblazoned with the words "Santa Fe."

Indeed, thanks to the small runs of brass trains, which means a manufacturer need only sell 100 or so of a particular model, the so-called short-run lines that were too tiny to be marketable for Lionel and other big model-train makers were well represented in the brass train world.

Originally, brass trains were not painted. Except for nickel plating used on grills, wheels, and other accent parts, the trains were left brass-colored. Eventually, though, custo...

The majority of brass model trains continued to be made in Japan until the 1970s, when production shifted to Korea. The first of these models, from about 1974 until 1980 or so, were poorly made, as a new generation of manufacturers learned the secrets of this arcane trade. Korean trains improved until about 1986 when the Second Golden Age of Brass, as some are calling it, blossomed.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Airfix Model Railways

Airfix Model Railways

Dave McCarthy's Airfix Model Railway treasure trove is an in-depth archive of the company's plastic railway kits fr… [read review or visit site]

Gateway NMRA

Gateway NMRA

This great reference site for model railroaders, from the Gateway (St. Louis) division of the NMRA (National Model … [read review or visit site]

HOseeker.net

HOseeker.net

This site is a treasure trove of HO scale model railroad manufacturer catalogs and other reference information, inv… [read review or visit site]

Postwar Lionel Trains Library

Postwar Lionel Trains Library

Bernie Schulz’s Lionel Trains Library focuses exclusively on postwar Lionel trains and accessories. The site cont… [read review or visit site]

Eric's Trains

Eric's Trains

Eric Siegel's site displays his collection of O-gauge/O-scale trains, tracks, turntables, and other accessories. A … [read review or visit site]

Tech Model Railroad Club of MIT

Tech Model Railroad Club of MIT

MIT's model railroad club, as one might expect, has one of the best websites for learning about how people play wit… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

O-brass Overland Usra "heavy" 2-8-2 MikadoO-scale Kmt N.j. International Brass Alco S-2 1000hp Diesel SwitcherBrass Hon3 Precision Scale Iron Horse Class 90 Ge Diesel White Pass & Yukon MintBrass Hallmark Whitcomb Class 65de19a Center Cab Diesel Us Army, LneModel O Gauge Brass EngineO Scale 2-rail Brass Wmc B&o #6184 P-7 4-6-2 Steam Loco President WashingtonOriental Ltd O Scale Brass 2 Rail Emd Nw2 1000hp Phase Ii Switcher Lnib 80sUnited Ho Brass Climax Geared Locomotive - BoxedGem Models Ho Brass Baltimore & Ohio Class C16 0-4-0 Dockside - BoxedHo - Brass - Orion - Union Pacific Coal Burning Turbine #80, 3 UnitsSunset Models Brass Hon3 Scale Drg&w 2-8-2 K-28O Scale Brass LocomotiveHo Brass Pfm United Atsf #3783 4-8-4 Steam & Tender Custom Weathered Pfm SoundPrecision Scale Iron Horse 16129-10 O Scale Brass Sp Sd-9 Black Widow Boxed '93Lmb Models Ho Brass Dsp & P Mason-bogie Locomotive - Orig Box & Never PaintedOriental Limited Ho Brass Pennsylvania E7a/e7b Set F/p Prr #5840/5840bAjin Korean Ho Brass Burro Crane 489200Nickel Plate Products/npp Ho Brass Boston & Albany B&a 2-8-4 Class A-1bN Scale Brass Overland Mw4033 Jordan Spreader Sp Day Light Nib Rare Super Nice!N Brass Key Imports Sp #3251 2-8-2 Steam Locomotive & Tender Southern PacificBrass Hon3 Berg's Hobbies Nswgr 48 Class Diesel White Pass & Yukon PaintedKey Imports Ho Brass New York Central Nyc L-4b 4-8-2 MohawkAlco Models Ho Brass Pennsylvania Rf-16a/rf-16b Shark Nose Prr Set #2017Brass Ho Gauge Maryland & Pennsylvania Unpainted 2-8-0 Steam Engine, O.b.Ho Brass Trolley Poles, Pantographs & Stuff, A Whole Pile Of Them, For 1 BidOriental Limited Ho Brass F7a/f7b Ab SetAlco Models Ho Brass Erie Built A-b Diesel Engine SetOriental Limited Ho Brass Emd Sw-1200 Diesel SwitcherHallmark Ho Brass Pennsylvania Baldwin Centipede Aa Set Dc/dcc Prr #5827/5828Ho Brass Wmc Westside Model H&h #39 2-truck Shay Custom Halfhollow & HuntingtonPfm Ho Virginia & Truckee Reno Locomotive Brass 4-4-0 Oil BurnerWestside Models Wmc Ho Brass Freelance 2-10-0 The Brute Steam Engine - BoxedUnited D&rgw Brass Hon3 Narrow Gauge 2-8-2 Mikado Class K-37 - BoxedCustom Built Ho Brass Steam Shovel, Logging Mining ConstructionSunset Models Prr O-1 Electric (2-b-2) Brass Engines 2 Rail O ScaleOverland Models Brass Ho Palace Poultry CarHo Scale Brass Akane Sp #4205 Ac-10 4-8-8-2 Cab Fwd Steam Southern PacificHon3 Brass Psc 15376 Utlx Narrow Frame Tank Car - Custom - Precision Scale Aristocraft G Scale Brass Wide Radius - 10' Diameter Left Switch TrackHo Brass Hallmark Atsf Santa Fe 2-10-2 9000 Series By Hallmark Models Inc.Brass Duluth Missabe Iron Range Railway Steam Locomotive E-1 2-10-2 Key Factory Aristocraft G Scale Brass Wide Radius - 10' Diameter Right Switch TrackSunset Models O Scale Brass Prr E6 Class 4-4-2 Locomotive 2 Rail Painted BoxedHo Brass Clyde Iron Works Track Layer (ca. 1920's-1950's) Omi #3103 MintE&p Ho Scale Brass Train 17082 New Haven Depressed Center Flat Car NibHo Brass New York Central 60' 6" Heavyweight Baggage Car Metro Models MintRed Ball Ho Brass Pennsylvania Fm Cfa-16/cfb-16 Shark Nose Ab Set Prr #9495/94bHo Scale Replacement Can Motor With 2 Brass Flywheels By NwslHo Brass Erie Limited Corp. Ri Rocky Mountain Rocket Emd Ab-6Brass Ho/hon3 Hallmark Models Hm East Broad Top Gas Electric Car M-1 PaintedMew Ho Brass New York Haven Hartford Ef-1 Box Cab Electric Locomotive #076United/pfm Ho Brass B-2 Two Truck Shay - Painted And Kadee CouplersHo Brass Hallmark Prr #5817 Centipede 4-8-8-4 Diesel Custom PennsylvaniaHo Nj Custom Brass Long Island Rr 4-6-0 Brass LocoBowser 531 Ho Usra Light Mikado Steam Locomotive Kit W/brass Detail KitRed Ball Ho Brass Pennsylvania Erie Built A/b Set Prr #9453Hon3 Narrow Gauge Custom Brass D&rgw Flanger 489187Ho Brass - Pfm -tenshodo Gn 4-6-6-4 Z-6 Challenger #4000 - 1975 / 55 Of 450E&p Ho Scale Brass Train Gsi 77-1 Heavy Duty Flat Car 17100 NibVtg Brass Import Santa Fe Railway Express Agency Baggage Car 263 Ho Scale Mint