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    

Ocs Brass Korea O Scale 2 Rail Trucks Pitman Motor Model TrainsIron Horse Precision Scale Great Northern Sw-1 Phase Painted Psc#16685 Brass Westside Models Hon3 Brass Southern Pacific #18 4-6-0 Steam Engine - BoxedBrass Mckeen Car Project Ho ScaleRy Models 1937 Aar Steel 40' Box Car O Scale Brass Art Deco End C&o No ReserveHo Brass Trains Suydam Milw Ef-3 Box Cab Cab Unit (powered)Olympia/gem Vintage Ho Brass P.r.r.class G-5-s 4-6-0 Engine & Tender W/boxOverland 5580 Omi Diesel-loco Gp40-2 #7620 "southern Pacific" / BrassHo Brass Overland Modesl Union Pacific 4022 4-8-8-4 Big Boy Ajin Korea Omi 1542Ktm Brass O Scale 4-6-4 Locomotive New York Central Hudson? - No TenderHo Brass Psc 17626-1 Precision Scale Lidgerwood Log Skidder With Moving CarsBrass O Electric Shop New York Central S-2 Electric C/p No Reserve East Broad Top M-1 Rail Car Hallmark Samhongsa Brass Hon3 Unpainted [7342]Lionel Trains Rare Prewar Passenger Car Set W Brass Parts 1931 Lighted Metal Us Unknown Brass Hon3 Scale Florence & Cripple Creek 2-8-2Overland 5815.1 Omi Diesel Sd70m #9814 "southern Pacific" / Brass / LimitedHo Scale Brass Import Painted Great Northern Caboose Np 1266 From Japan Gb BiOverland 1158-3 Omi Diesel Sd70ace #8333 U.p. / Digital / Brass / LimitedBrass O Max Gray Canadian Pacific 4-4-0 No Reserve Overland Brass Sd9043 Mac Omi#6604.1 Beautiful Condition - Ho ScaleHo Brass Trains Suydam Milw Ef-3 Box Cab Cab Unit (powered)Ho, Westside Brass, 0-6-0 Southern Pacific Shop Steam Loco With G-file, JapanHo Scale Brass Import Painted Great Northern Caboose X282 From Ajin Korea Gb BiOverland 5815.1 Omi Diesel Sd 70 M #9806 Southern Pacific / BrassImperial Models Ho Brass Southern Pacific Sp Cab Forward 4-8-8-2 Ac-11 #4274Alco Vintage Brass Ho Prr P-5a #e-105, Japan, ObVintage Ho Scale Painted Brass Southern Pacific Oil Tender - Exc!Aristo-craft 11099 Euro Brass 5 ' Straight Track (10)Sunset Models Ho Scale Brass Santa Fe 0-8-0 "825 Class" Steam Loco & Tender ExTwo United Brass Ho Golden Spike 4-4-0 EnginesPecos River Brass - Emd Gp15 4036 Union Pacific #1566 Factory Painted In BoxO Scale 2 Rail Brass Emd Gp40 Diesel LocomotiveHo Brass Trains Suydam Milw Ef-3 Box Cab Booster Unit (non-powered)Ho Die Cast And Brass 4-6-2 "pacific" Steam LocomotiveKey Imports Brass Ho Scale Southern Pacific Sp 4-8-4 Daylight Gs-4Overland 1110-2 Omi Diesel-loco Sd70 Ac #4726 "csx" / Brass / 0 ScaleBrill Model 250 Gas-electric Version 3 Brass By Fm Models #503 O Scale 2 RailOverland 5576 Omi Diesel-loco Gp40-2 #3118 "rio Grande" / BrassBrass O Max Gray/ush Rio Grande L-131 2-8-8-2 C/p Can Motor,extras No Reserve Accucraft K27 Brass Loco G Scale 464 Drgw 120.3 Electric Version,no Sound ModuleOverland 1259-2 Omi Diesel Sd70ace #8339 U.p. / Digital / Brass / Limited3rd Rail Brass Santa Fe 2-10-4 Steam LocomotiveAlco D-120s Brass Bp-20 A & B Diesel Locomotive Set (prr Painted)Overland 5839.1 Omi Us-diesellok Sd 70 Mac #9447 Der B.n. / Brass - MessingSn3 Brass 55 Ton Two Truck Shay #6 West Side Lumber Milestone Models DccHo Brass Trains Wsm Great Northern Gn A=9 0-6-0 Switch Engine, TroO Scale Brass Sunset 10,000 Gal Tank Car Jones & LaughlinHo Tenshodo Brass Nyc 4-8-2 Steam Locomotive Nickel Plate Products Ho Brass Borden's Milk Car, BzOverland Omi Ho Gp60 Southern Pacific Sp Speed Lettering Ajin Brass 9728Ho Brass United 2 Truck Shay Class B Super Detail / Good Runner/ No ReserveBrass Alco Models Pennsylvania P5a Boxcab Electric Custom PaintHo Brass Trains Wsm Great Northern Gn H-4 4-6-2 Steam Engine, Mint TroBowser (not Brass) Ho Scale Sp&s/bn Alco C-636 Non/soundOverland 6603.1 Omi Diesel Sd70 #1019 "illinois Central" / Brass / LimitedOverland 7901.2 Omi Diesel Sd 70 Mac #9889 Bnsf / Brass / Digital / Limited RarChallenger Imports Brass Ho Scale Great Northern Gn Emd E7a Western 20-yard Air Dump Car W/wood Bed By The Car Works O Scale Brass 2-railCustom Brass (nj) Brass Ho Scale Great Northern Gn 4-4-2 Class KHon3 Diamond Models Detailed Brass Tank Locomotive