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    

Antique Handmade 19thc, Live Steam Engine, Brass Railroad Train Model, NrUnknown Brass On3 Scale D&rgw #375 C-25 2-8-0Overland Models #7032.2 Emd Gp35/dd35b Dual Brass Ho Diesel Set (only 15 Made)Athearn/genesis (not Brass) Ho Scale Southern Pacific Sp# 3384 Gp9 Sound/dcc Ho Brass - Sunset - Southern Pacific Sp - Whaleback Tender - UnpaintedHo Brass Wmc Sierra #24 2-8-0Us Hobbies Ktm O Scale Brass Nyc 2-8-2 H-10b Locomotive 2 Rail New In Box 60s #2Mountain Models/psc Brass On3 Scale D&rgw #462 2-8-2 K-27Ho-brass Hallmark Custom-painted Amtrak Rdc-1 & Rdc-3 Both PoweredHo Scale Steam Engine Model Train Locomotives Stock Vintage Brass Parts AgPrecision Scale Brass Ho Scale Trains Southern Pacific Lines Fact Painted CoachHo Scale Steam Engine Model Train Locomotives Vintage Varney Brass Parts AgToby Max Gray O Scale Brass 2 Rail Santa Fe Mikado 2-8-2 Locomotive 1960s Exc #2Ho Brass, Southern Pacific 4-8-8-2 Cab Forward, Balboa/katsumi JapanWestside Model Co. 278 Brass Hon3 Class C-16 Steam Loco & Tender/boxMax Gray Ktm O Scale Brass 2 Rail Sp Southern Pacific 4-8-2 Mt3 Locomotive 60sHo Brass Key Imports K-59 D&rgw 2-8-2 MikadoFar East Dist. 4402 Hon3 Brass 4-4-0 Steam Locomotive & Tender/boxUnited/pfm Brass Ho Scale Sante Fe Atsf 2-8-4Ho Brass Omi C&nw J-4 2-8-4 Rare Brass Train Locomotives Lot United, Katsumi, Toby, & 1 Other JapanOverland Models Brass Bcr C44-9w #4650Pacific Fast Mail Steam Class A-5 4-8-4 Northern Pacific / Brass / LimitedFar East Dist. 4401 Brass 4-4-0 Steam Loco & Tender NibHo Brass Tenshodo C&nw 4-4-2 Loco And Tender No.111 DeluxeVintage Us Hobbies Ktm O Scale Brass Usra 0-8-0 Locomotive 2 Rail New In Box #2Unknown Brass On3 Scale D&rgw K-? 2-8-2Brass Precision Scale Southern Pacific 60-b-5 Double Door Baggage Mail Car Ho All Brass & Copper Live Steam Locomotive Railroad EngineHon3 Brass Tender Ex/boxSamhongsa Classic Brass Models Nswgr 49 Class Diesel Locomotive Boxed Htf Model Olympia (gem) Ho Scale Pennsylvania Rr D16 Sb 4-4-0 Brass Steam Engine Wow!!N.j. Custom Brass "union Pacific Ex. C & O H-7" 2-8-8-2Red Ball Brass Ho Baldwin Two Cab Dr-6-4-2000 Janus Cnj Jersey Central RailroadHo Scale Akane Brass Baltimore & Ohio Class Em-1 2-8-8-4 Articulated LocomotiveHallmark Models Brass Ho Ge U30cg Diesel At&sf Santa Fe RailroadBrass O Us Hobbies Pennsylvania Railroad K-4 4-6-2 No ReserveKtm/japan Steam-loco Mk-5 2-8-2 #3276 Southern Pacific / Brass / Limited / NewJoe Works Rio Grande Miniland Hon3 Brass Mason Bogie Ex/boxHo Brass Wmc D&rgw 2-8-2 K-27 Slide ValveAthearn/genesis (not Brass) Ho Scale Southern Pacific Sp# 2745 Mp15ac Sound/dcc Ho Brass Tenshodo Rock Island 0-8-0 Factory PaintedBrass O Custom Brass Pennsylvania Railroad Gg-1 F/p W/decals No Reserve Brass Omi Overland Ajin Lackawanna P1 4-8-2 Mountain MintHallmark Models Brass Ho Alco Dl-109 &110 Set Santa Fe & Southern RailroadHo Chesapeake & Ohio C&o T-1 2-10-4 Sound Broadway Limited Imports Brass PaintedAlco Models Samhongsa Brass Korea #x134 Ho Scale Nyc N-7 Caboose Unpainted BrassBrass Overland Models 1354 Bi-level Open Auto Rack Car C/p1960's Canadian Pacific Railway 4-6-2 Brass Locomotive Unitedscale Models Japan Nj Custom Brass O Rs-637-0 Steel Winged Snow Plow In Box 508342Flying Zoo 18 Ton Climax Hon3 Brass LocomotivePrecision Scale Brass Ho Scale Trains Southern Pacific Coach Common StandardVintage Us Hobbies Ktm O Scale Brass Prr 2-8-2 L-1 Locomotive 2 Rail New N BoxHallmark Models Brass Ho E5 Stainless Steel A & B Set Cb&q Burlington RailroadBrass 1016-4 Warren 165 Foot Through Truss Bridge 1-track F/p Oxide RedUnited/pfm Brass Ho Scale Sante Fe Atsf 2-8-0Hon30 Brass Joe Works R206 Sandy River Series Forney Unassembled Kit UnpaintedHallmark Brass Ho Scale Great Northern Gn Fta & FtbBrass - New York Central - Mohawk / 4-8-2 / L3c / Can Motor / Nwsl Gearbox Santa Fe 2-8-0 "789" Class Sunset Models, Samhongsa, Brass Ho Train, Mint In Box