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    

Japan Ho Brass 0-6-0 Cnw Steam Locomotive & Tender Coal Car 2126Rahway Valley Ge 70 Tonner Sunset Brass 2-rail O Scale Rvrr Lvrr Cnj LocomotiveHo Scale Train Brass Engine Steam Locomotive Union Pacific 4-8-4 Northern Brass Metal Hon3 Narrow Gauge Steam Locomotive 0-4-4-0 D&c Railroad #7Sunset Models Brass Ho Santa Fe Atsf 2-8-2Japan Ho Scale Brass 0-6-0 Steam Locomitve And Tender Coal Car CnwBrass Omi Overland Ajin Lehigh Valley John Wilkes 4-6-2 2101 Factory Paint Williams 7000 Union Pacific 4-6-6-4 Challenger Brass Steam Locomotive & TenderPrecision Scale Psc Ho Brass Sp Southern Pacific P-10 4-6-2 Pacific Daylight'ho' Brass Van Hobbies / Samhongsa - Canadian Pacific Cpr 2-10-4 T1a Selkirk Pfm ??? Brass Hon3 Scale Painted Rio Grande Southern Rgs 2-8-0 Steam Locomotive(lot #571) Vintage O Scale 2 Rail Brass Train Kemtron Alco Switcher PartsHo Scale Brass Southern Pacific "c-9" Consolidation Steam Locomotive, By BalboaUnited Pacific Fast Mail Ho Brass Santa Fe 2-8-0 Sf Locomotive W/ Box (japan)United Pacific Fast Mail Ho Brass Elk River Coal & Lumber Climax #3 W/ Box Sunset Models Brass Hon3 Denver & Rio Grande 2-8-2 D&rgw K-36Precision Scale. Porter 0-4-0t Saddle Tank Engine, On3 Brass. Must See.Van Hobbies/samhongsa Ho Scale Brass Cpr 35ft Business Car Ex/boxHo Scale Brass Fujiyama A&lm 4-6-0 Steam Locomotive Unpainted JapanJapan Ho Brass 0-6-0 Steam Locomotive & Tender Coal Car 4473 Union PacificHo-brass Central Vermont 0-8-0 Steam Locomotive By TenshodoTenshodo Ho Brass Santa Fe Atsf 4-6-4 Hudson Project Mashima Can Motor, Nwsl Mystery Mfg. Ho Scale Brass Set Of 4 Road Side Dump Cars - Rare ! - Hk Key Import Ho Brass Western Maryland 150 Ton 3-truck ShayPrecision Scale Psc Ho Brass D&rgw Class L-105 4-6-6-4 Rio Grande 15168Overland Brass Ho Union Pacific Up Weed Sprayer W/ Tank Cars Omi-1304 UnpaintedWeaver G1754lp Brass B&m P-4 4-6-2 Steam Loco & Tender - 3 Rail W/sound Ln/boxMint River Raisin S Scale Brass Up 3-unit Gas Turbine #8 Version #1662.1 DcSunset Models Brass Ho Pennsylvania 2-8-0 Prr O Brass Max Gray Nkp 2-8-4 Berkshire S-1 Steam Locomotive *wysiwyg* **project**United Ho Brass Southern Pacific Sp Gs-4 4-8-4 Daylight Unpainted No Box As IsVan Hobbies/samhongsa Ho Brass Cpr Mikado 2-8-2 P-1d,e Steam Loco & Tender LnTenshodo Ho Scale 2-4-0t Die Cast & Brass Vintage Tank Switcher Engine HkE. Suydam Brass Ho Scale Powered Trolley, Pacific Electric, Interurban CoachHallmark Models Inc. Undecorated Cincinnati And Lake Erie C&le Brass Trolley Car Key Import Ho Brass West Virginia Pulp & Paper 210 Ton 4-truck Shay(lot #575) O Scale Brass Train Central Locomotive Works Alco 2000 H.p. Chassis Denver Rio Grande Western Railroad Hon3 Narrow Brass Locomotive Tender #223Ho Scale Train Brass Engine Steam Locomotive Pfm Louisiana & Arkansas 4-6-0Westside Ktm O Scale Brass Western Maryland Ry 150 Ton 3-truck ShayO Scale Brass Lobaugh Union Pacific Challenger 4-6-6-4 Two RailHallmark/kumata Ho Scale Brass Fm H-12-44 Diesel Locomotive - Excellent - HkChallenger - Ho Brass - Santa Fe E6 Locomotive #15 - A&b Set - Super ChiefVan Hobbies/fm Models Ho Scale Brass Canadian Pacific 30' Wood Flanger CabooseJapan Ho Brass 0-6-0 Cnw Steam Locomotive & Tender Coal Car 2902Max Gray Brass Ho Santa Fe "heavy" Pacific #3437(lot #579) O Scale Brass Train Central Locomotive Works Alco 2000 Hp A-b-a PartsHo Brass Cpr 4-6-2 G-3d #2300 Painted Vh Samhongsa Co.Ho Scale Brass Pfm Lot - Steam Body 2 Truck Shay Unpainted *wysiwyg*'ho' Brass Van Hobbies / Samhongsa - Canadian Pacific Cpr 4-4-4 Jubilee Loco.Ho Scale Brass Canadian Pacific 2-8-0 Steam Loco & Tender - Painted Ln/boxHo Scale Brass Unknown Manufacture Small Rail BusBrass Nickel Plate Prod Nyo&w 2-6-0 Camelback Class U (v) Factory PaintPacific Pike Ho Scale Brass Nyc 4-6-0 Steam Locomotive & Tender Ex/boxPacific Pike 31-ru Ho Scale Brass B&o 0-4-0 Switcher Ex/boxSoho/kumata Ho Brass Inion Pacific Gas Turbine & Tender - HkHo Brass Sp Ac-5 4-8-8-2 By Key Imports Samhongsa Co.Awewsome Sp Brass Locomotive & Tender - 4-8-8-2 - Key Imports - Factory Paint !!Brass Omi Overland Ajin Lehigh Valley John Wilkes Heavyweight CoachCustom Brass Ho Brass Great Northern K Class 4-4-2, Painted #1790