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    

Ho Scale Brass Tenshodo S-1 4-8-4 Steamer Painted Great NorthernHo Brass Samhongsa 4-6-4 Engine & Tender Santa Fe 3450 *model Toy TrainWestside Model Steam Locomotive F-5 Southern Pacific 2-10-2 Brass Ho Train2Brass O Scale 2 Rail Great Northern Sd-9Ho Scale Brass United Kanawha C&o 2-8-4 SteamerSun? Key? Samhongsa Rio Grande C-16 Bumble Bee 2-4-0 Steam Brass Locomotive On3Ho Scale Overland Models Gn Emd Nw-5 Diesel Switcher PaintedHo Scale Brass Wmc Two Truck Shay Steam Locomotive Unpainted Japan *no Motor*Internationals Brass O Gauge 2 Rail Powered Electric Pacific Electric CaliforniaG Scale - Aristocraft - Lot Of (11) Pieces Of 5ft Brass Straight Track Sections!Ho Scale Brass United Usra Pacific 4-6-2 Ho Scale Brass United N&w #2181 Y6b 2-8-8-2 Steam Locomotive CustomLot 30 Lgb G Scale #1000 Straight Brass Railroad 24" Track Sections 60' FeetUltra Rare Carlisle & Finch Vintage Brass Electric Railway TrolleyKey Imports Steam Locomotive C-10 Southern Pacific 2-8-0 #2842 Brass Ho Train2O & K Mallet 0-4-4-0 Backwoods Miniatures Model Railroad On30 Narrow Gauge Ho Brass Overland Models Cnj Baldwin Double Ender Dr-6-4-20 Custom Painted VgoodHo Scale Brass Alco Models Pennsylvania Fw-1 & Fd-2 Dep. Center Well Flat CarG Scale - Aristocraft - Lot Of (6) Pieces Of 5ft Brass Straight Track Sections!Broadway Limited 1287 Nyc Mohawk Brass Hybrid Steam Locomotive & Tender W/dcc ExG Scale -aristocraft- Lot Of (10) Pieces Of 4.5ft Brass Straight Track Sections!Ho Brass Ken Kidder Or Gem Nyc Empire State Express 4-4-0 Fp Runs Ok G Scale - Lgb - Lot Of (11) Pieces Of 1200mm 4ft Brass Straight Track Sections!S. Soho & Co. 1004 Ho Brass Up #61 Veranda Gas Turbine/boxHo Bowser Heavy Mountain 4-8-2 Kit/started Lots Of Extra Brass Detail Parts Brass Model Of Colorado 4-6-0 Schenectady Locomotive Works Locomotive & TenderHo Scale 4-8-2 Brass Steam Engine Varney 1862? Locomotive VintageSunset Models 1600hp Ho Brass H.p. Alco Rs-3 Diesel Locomotive Ex/boxOverland Models Brass Bascule Trunnion Doubletrack Lift Bridge - UsedC&ls Undecorated Brass Rs-11 Diesel Engine - Hh - W/dynamic - 1800 Gal - 2ros Key Import Ho Brass West Coast Special 90 Ton 3-truck Heisler Mt. Rainier #91Weaver M1a Mountain 3-rail O-guage Brass LocomotiveHo Scale Brass Nwsl Northern Pacific CabooseCary Ho Usra Light Mikado On Tyco 2-8-2 W/brass Sds + Cast Long Haul Tender Brass Canadian National Railroad 'van' Caboose Overland Models 1173.1 CustomTenshodo Ho Brass Nyc 4-6-4 Hudson Steam Locomotive, BVintage Painted Brass Hon3 Caboose Great Shape Some Paint Chips LqqkG Scale - Aristocraft/rea - Lot Of (12) Pieces Of 3ft 36" Brass Straight Track!Brass Imports O Key Santa Fe F-7 A-b Set F/p Blue/yellow No ReserveBrass Imports O Overland Rock Island Outside Braced Wood Caboose C/p No ResrveHo Scale Brass Wmc At&sf #1398 4-4-6-2 Steam Locomotive Custom By Bill ShoppHo Brass Westside Baltimore & Ohio Q4b Painted W Aux Tenderolder Paint Runs WellSamhongsa Ho Gauge Norfolk & Western Class "j" 4-8-4 Steam Locomotive-no ReserveHo Brass Steam Locomotive - Climax Oil Burning Logging Loco - Unpainted Rare!Ho Scale Brass Suydam Wood Box MotorLot 24 Lgb Lehmann G Scale Brass Straight Train Track Sections No.1000 48' FeetHo Scale Bowser Brass? 4-6-6-4 Challenger Steam Loco W/oil Tender, Needs Work!3rd Rail Sunset O Brass 2-8-2 Mk-5 Mikado, New In BoxSun? Key? Samhongsa Rio Grande C-16 Bumble Bee 2-4-0 Steam Brass Locomotive Hon3Ho Scale Brass Lambert Associates Pony Truss BridgeSunset Models 3rd Rail Brass J&l 10,000 Gallon Tank Car F/p 2 Rail O ScaleHo Scale Brass Overland Models Spokane, Portland & Seattle Bay Window CabooseHo Scale Brass Suydam Wood Tower CarAkane Ho Brass 2-8-8-4 Steam Engine - Kadee Coupler On TenderLionel Copy 54 Std. Gauge Brass 0-4-4-0 Electric Locomotive - Double MotorOriental Limited Ho Brass/diecast 2-8-2 Steam Locomotive, BVintage Sam Hong Sa Painted Brass Hon3 Tcx 72 Tank Car Great Shape LqqkUnknown Manufacture O Scale Long Island (pennsylvania) Mp54 Brass Coach (3 Rail)Ho Brass Nwsl Norfolk And Western Auxillary Tender Up Tarnished Complete Brass Key Imports / Samhongsa Chesapeake & Ohio 2-6-6-2 H-5