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    

Brass United Centennial 4-4-0 Golden Spike Cp Up Union Pacific Old Time AmericanLg Omi 1394 Schnabel Transformer Car Westinghouse Wecx 203 Brass Ho 1/87Accucraft Ac78-134 G Scale Brass Rgs Inspection Car #1 Ln/boxSandy River & Rangeley Lakes Hon 2 1/2 Sr &rl Brass Locomotive #9 - BoxedLg Brass Overland Omi-3214.1 Amoco Safety Train Training Car Amox 911r 1:87 HoPrecission Eng / Balboa Brass Ho Articulated S P 4-6-6-2 Am-2 Cab Forward 224Brass Poague Type "h" Water Column Prr Up Nyc Atsf Nkp C&nw B&o C&o Soo Sou Cr Brass Milw Ep-2 Bi-polar Electric Custom Brass Milwaukee Road Ho Pro PaintedBrass Pfm United Golden Spike Centennial Set Ho ScalePfm Brass Ho 2-4-4-2 Steam Loco,motor,chassis,running Gear,trucks, Etc. JapanBroadway Limited Ho 1627 New Haven I-5 Brass Hybrid #1409 Large Script Dcc SoundNjcb Ho Scale Brass Western Maryland Wm I-1 2-10-0 Steam Locomotive Up Ob MtWalthers 932-5629 Ho Scale Brass Circus Train Pacific 4-6-2 Steam Loco & TenderHon3 Ho Scale Trains Brass 2-8-0 Steam Locomotive Working Smooth Unknown?? MakerBrass Ho Scale Trains Overland Models?? Fef-3 4-8-4 Union Pacific Locomotive ExcLemaco Lematec Neuf 141f 16 Ref Ho-067/3 Sncf Lg Omi 3167 Liquid Arrgon Tank Car Custom Ptd. Big Three Indus. Brass Ho 1/87Hon3 Ho Scale Trains Brass 2-8-0 Steam Locomotive Working Unknown Maker LookHon3 Ho Scale Trains Brass 2-8-0 General Type Locomotive Working Unknown Maker??Ho Scale Northern Pacific Np F7 Engine & Complete Passenger Train Set By AthearnSunset Models O Scale 2 Rail Brass New York Central K-5 4-6-2 PacificHo Brass Westside Fire Train Set #2252 Brass Interurban Street Car Traction Chicago Aurora Elgin Soho Coach TrolleyBowser Ho Scale Trains Metal Brass Rock Island 4-8-4 Steam Locomotive Exc 100475Brass Imports Tenshodo 0-8-0 Rock Island Cri&p Ho Scale Custom Painted BrassSunset Models Union Pacific N Scale M-10000 4 Car Set Japan BrassBroadway Limited Ho 1624 New Haven I-5 Brass Hybrid #1400 Small Script Dcc SoundBroadway Limited Ho 1625 New Haven I-5 Brass Hybrid #1407 Small Script Dcc SoundPrecision Scale Company O Scale 2-rail Brass Southern Pacific C-30-1 Caboose ExWestside Models D&rgw K-36 2-8-2 Hon3 Unpainted Brass New & Mint In BoxBrass Ho Scale Trains Pfm United 2 Truck Shay Working For Parts Or Repairs LookWeaver Models Brass B&o Cincinnatian 4-6-2 Pacific 2 Rail O Scale F/p Samhongsa / Keyimports Brass Ho Southern Pacific 4-10-2 Sp-2/3 246Broadway Limited Ho 1623 New Haven I-5 Brass Hybrid #1405 Block Letter Dcc SoundBrass Ho Scale Trains Tenshodo 2-8-2 Steam Locomotive For Parts Or Repairs Overland Models Brass Ho 2 Signal Cantilever Signal Tower 196Brass Ho Scale Trains Brass 6 Wheel Tender For Parts Or RepairsLg Cmc 14051 White Heil 1040 Dry Bulk Trailer Brass W/ton Kw Tractor 1/87 HoBowser Ho Scale Trains Diecast & Brass Rock Island Mikado 2-8-2 Locomotive ExcBrass Ho Scale Trains Brass 4 Wheel Tender For Parts Or Repairs (3rd)Ktm Us Hobby O Scale 2 Rail Brass L-2 4-8-2 New York Central Engine & Tender Brass Atsf 4-6-2 Steam Engine 3400 Class Santa Fe Pacific Dc United Or Sunset Overland Ajin Brass Ho Union Pacific Ca-11 Caboose “keep On Truckin” Up #25821 Ho Brass 4-4-2 Atlantic Steam Locomotive & Tender..Brass Ho Scale Trains Brass 6 Wheel Tender For Parts Or Repairs With Sound (4th)Gem Models Baldwin Mallet 2-4-4-2 Im-105 Brass Steam Locomotive Tender Ho TrainOn3 Brass Components For Rgs Steam Loco #25 Incomplete Sold As-isBrass Ho Scale Trains 4-6-6-4 Challenger Locomotive For Parts Or RepairsHo Brass The Car Model Co. Marion Shovel Model 40Ho Brass Pacific Fast Mail Soo Line H-23 Class 4-6-2 Locomotive, Custom PaintBrass Ho Scale Trains Tenshodo Santa Fe 4-6-4 Hudson Steam LocomotiveBowser Ho Scale "challenger" 4-6-6-4 Locomotive Kit-unbuilt-1950's-gorgeous!Ho Brass Pacific Fast Mail Soo Line N-20class 4-8-2 Locomotive, Custom PaintHo Brass Overland Models Linde Union Tank Liquid Arrgon Car Omi #3167Hon3 Nwsl 18 Ton Brass Shay ProjectHo Brass Pfm Western Pacific 4-6-0 Sunset Models Santa Fe 825 Class 0-8-0 Brass Engine W/ Tender & ObHo Brass Takara Lirr 2-8-0 Camelback (a4-a)Brass Ho Scale Trains Overland Models Union Pacific 4-6-2 Steam LocomotiveLg Brass Pba 78' Girder Bridge W/walkways 1:87 Ho Precision Brass Art Work