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    

Large Antique Model Metal And Brass Stationary Horizontal Steam Engine 1890-1930O Scale Brass Lobaugh 2-8-4 Berkshire With Tender Two RailWestside Model Company Brass Ho Scale Trains Gs-4 Southern Pacific Daylight LocoNj Custom Brass Pennsylvania (prr) Lima Hamilton Transfer Unit Ho DieselBrass Orion Models Ho C&o Steam TurbineBrass Ajin Precision Ho B&o The Royal BlueBrass Katsumi Mokeiten Co. Ho Atsf 2-10-10-2O Scale Brass Hines 4-6-2 K5 Steam Locomotive Outside Third Rail ErieBrass Samhongsa Ho C&o Allegheny 2-6-6-6Overland Models Up 2906 4-6-2 Streamlined Brass Engine & Tender 2 Rail O ScaleHallmark Ho Brass Santa Fe Atsf 3129 Class 2-8-2 Mikado Upgraded! Nwsl, MashimaMax Gray Ho Southern Pacific Mt-4 4-8-2 Mountain Brass Steam Engine - BoxedCustom Brass Little River 2-4-4-2 Precision Scale Brass Hon3: Rio Grande Southern 2-8-0 C-19 #40 Ho Brass - Nj Brass - Prr Pennsylvania - Q-1 Duplex 4-6-4-4 - UnpaintedHo Brass Key Northern Pacific Yellowstone Z-5 2-8-8-4Broadway Limited 2067 Brass Q2 4-4-6-4 Steam Loco W/snd Prr #6195 Ln/boxBeautifully Detailed Brass Steam Locomotive And Tender Built KitUsed Sunset Brass Ho Scale Usra Heavy 2-8-2 Unpainted & Cal-scale Trailing TruckBrass Daiyoung Ho Q-1 Duplex 4-6-4-4Great Northern Snow Dozer Rare Bc-21 Ho Overland Models Brass Ho Brass Engine Tender 2-10-2 U.s.r.a. Heavy Boxed Japan Certificate Nice RunsO Scale Gauge Brass 2 Rail Train Trains Open Gondola Train Thm 1 KadeeUnited Vintage Ho Brass Prr 4-6-2 Pacific Engine & Tender W/box-$9.99,no ResO Scale Sunset Models Brass - 2 Rail Southern Pacific Rr Ge 44 Ton Switcher Vintage Brass Samhongsa Western Model Ho Scale B+ O T-3a Locomotive + TenderPsc 16500-1 Ho Brass Bm-70ka Rpo/baggage Passenger Car Pennsylvania Prr Rea #536Ho Brass Key 4-6-6-4 Union Pacific Challenger Steam Engine Dcc Sound DecoderHon3 Scale Kemtron Brass D&rg/rgs 0-6-0t Locomotive Kit No InstructionsP&d Brass Truck Conversion With ShellRf16 A & B Unpainted BrassPfm Brass Santa Fe #5011 Texas 2-10-4 - Unpainted - Ho Scale - Pacific Fast MailBrass Rok-am Ho Articulated Gas Electric Ho Brass Hallmark 2-8-0 Steam Locomotive & Tender Unpainted Project DisassembledCustom Brass/ktm Ho Brass Santa Fe 1800 Prairie 2-6-2 Steam Engine - BoxedLot 8 All Brass Kyodo Nj International Tomar? Ho Double Light Railroad Signal #2Ho Brass Max Gray Denver And Rio Grande Western L-105 4-6-6-4Vtg Brass Ho Sunset Models Union Pacific 1242 4-6-0 Train Engine Nos (1 Of 100s)Ho Brass Bucyrus-erie 250-ton Crane Cust.paint Mexican Rr (ndem) Lambert #603Nickel Plate Products Brass Ho Scale Great Northern Gn "mow" BoxcarMax Gray New York Central 4-8-4, Brass - O Scale - ProjectOn30 Ams Brass Factory Ptd Yellow 20 Ton Plymouth Gas Loco, Can Motor & LightsMb Austin Ho Brass Southern Pacific M-21 2-6-0 Mogul Steam Engine - 1958-61Ho Scale Brass Unknown Manufacturer 0-4-0 So Ugly Its Cute Custom CamelbackLot 8 All Brass Kyodo Nj International Tomar? Ho Double Light Railroad SignalHon3 Brass Dsp&p 2-8-6t "mason Bogie" Balboa 1965 Pilot ModelBrass Daiyoung Ho S-2 Turbine 6-8-6Brass Dong Jin Ho Atsf Madam Queen 2-10-4Ho Brass Tenshodo Gn 2-10-2 Class Q-1 Steam & Tender Project Great NorthernSide Dump Car Paccar Bc-37 Ho Overland Models Brass Blw Brass Hon3 D&rgwbuisness Car:b-1 Limited Edition 1999Lionel 6-51702 Pennsylvania Prr N8 Brass Caboose MintNew Haven Ep-3 Class Ho Brass Locomotive, Mew Japan, Exc Condition, BoxedKtm Ho Scale Brass Southern Pacific Cab Forward Steam Locomotive & TenderVtg Brass Ho Sunset Models Santa Fe 0-8-0 Class 825 Train Engine Nos (1 Of 100s) Brass O Scale Sunset 3rd Rail Div. B&o Wagon Top #2435 Caboose 3rail W/boxO Scale Brass 4-6-2 K4 Steam Locomotive Outside Third Rail PennsylvaniaHon3 The Balk One Loco Works Brass Vertical Boiler Class A "climax" Partial KitBlw Brass Hon3 D&rgw Excursion Car "silver Vista" Limited Edition - MintHo Brass Erie Limited - D&rgw #50 Davenport Diesel Switcher Not Hon3