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    

Ho Scale Hon3 Westside Brass Southern Pacific Narrow Gauge Spng 4-6-0 Steam LocoHon3 Brass D&rgw Rotary Snowplow "o-m" W/powered Blades Omi #1355 MintHo Scale Hon3 Sunset Brass Denver & Rio Grande D&rgw C-16 2-8-0 Steam LocoHo-brass Pfm-tenshodo Great Northern 2-8-8-2 Steam LocomotiveHo - Brass- Pfm / United- Central Pacific Jupiter 4-4-0 Golden Spike LocomotiveO Scale Brass Usra Heavy 4-8-2 Kit, Sunset ModelsBrass - U50 Diesel In Parts - Needs To Be Assembled - Motor RunsHo Scale Hon3 Westside Brass Southern Pacific Narrow Gauge Spng TenderBrass - Hon3 - Narrow Gauge Mogul / 2-6-0 / Circa 1910Overland Omi Ho Brass Southern Pacific Sp Ac4400 #118Ho Brass Lambert Prr Class H-6sb 2-8-0 Limited RunHo Brass Wmc Sp Mk-11 2-8-2Ho-brass Pfm-tenshodo Sp&s 4-6-6-4 Steam LocomotiveHo Scale Hon3 Lambert Brass Colorado & Southern C&s 2-6-0 Steam Loco3rd Rail 5011 Santa Fe Steam Brass Locomotive & TenderPecos River Brass 4011s Santa Fe 4-6-4 #3458 Steam Locomotive & Tender Ex/boxAccucraft Electric Brass Factory Painted Drgw K-27 Number 463 No Sound 1:20.3Ho Scale Hon3 Westside Brass Southern Pacific Narrow Gauge Spng Tender #2Ho-brass Pfm-fujiyama Northern Pacific 4-8-4 Steam LocomotiveNew Jersey Brass "southern Pacific" Class P-13 4-6-2Akane Ho Scale Brass 2-8-8-4 Steam Locomotive & TenderHo Brass Overland Models Great Northern 1945 Steel Caboose #263Vintage Hon3 Brass Caboose,marked On The Botton Precision Engineered Japan.!!!!Brass - Pennsylvania 2-8-0 / Class H-10s / Lines West Tender / Ptd.Ho Scale Brass Hallmark Cm 4-6-0 Steam Locomotive Unpainted Colorado MidlandBrass - Illinois Terminal :class "c" Interurban [16 Wheel] Electric LocomotiveHo-brass/white Metal Kitbash Baltimore & Ohio 2-10-2 Steam LocomotiveSuydam Brass Passenger 2 For One Price Ho Scale Hon3 Oriental Brass Denver & Rio Grande D&rgw Mow FlangerHon3 - Brass - Sunset - Drgw - K-28 2-8-2 - Factory PaintedHo Imperial Models Brass Cab Forward Ac-8Precision Scale Company Santa Fe Brass 50' Wooden Ice Reefer #31093 - 2 Rail ExOriental Limited Brass Ho Great Northern E-8 4-6-0 1915 Version Cat No.0454Rare Kemtron Brass Alco Rs-5 Kit, Un-poweredOverland 5336 Omi Us-diesel Sd40-t2 #8303 "southern Pacific" / BrassPfm Pacific Fast Mail Tenshodo Sp Ac-12 4-8-8-2 Sound Ready Ho BrassMilwaukee Road Brass Overland Models Es-2 Steeple Electric Cab Omi-1894/ho Scal* Palace Car Co. Brass Ho Scale Milwaukee Road Milw Mail Storage Passenger CarHo Brass Southern Pacific 72' Harriman Rpo (70-bp-30-2/3) Soho 1970's MintHo-brass Olympia Models Pennsylvania 2-10-2 Steam LocomotiveHo Scale Brass Slope Back Switcher Tender For Usra 0-6-0Lot Bz) Of Gold Medal Models N-scale Brass Fence/fire Escapes/blinds/gatesO Scale Brass Ry Models C&o 2 Rail BoxcarOverland 5844.1 Omi Us-diesel Sd60 M #6360 "union Pacific" / Brass / LimitedHo Scale Brass Westside Models Pennsylvania J-1 2-10-4 C-8 Brass O P&d Blomberg Truck Sideframes-bolster Assembly Pair No Reserve Key Imports Brass Train And Tender 2-6-6-2 H-5 Classic 3rd Rail 3816 O Scale Brass Santa Fe 3800 Class 2-10-2 Steam Loco & Tender ExHo Scale Brass United/pfm Pennsylvania 2-10-0 I-1 C-8Ho Scale Brass Mew Cm #21 4-6-0 Steam Custom Colorado Midland - Wrong TenderHo Scale Brass United Pennsylvania K-4 4-6-2 Pacific C-8Ho Scale Brass Overland Models/ajin Korea Reading T-1 4-8-4 Steamer C-7Npp Ho Scale Brass Delaware Lackawanna & Western M-1 4-6-4 Hudson Fp Ob ExcVintage United Brass Ho Scale 2-truck Heisler Loggong LocomotiveVintage Olympia Japan Brass Pennsylvania Rr Ho Gauge 4-6-0 Class G5s Gem ModelsAnn Arbor O Scale 2-rail Brass Covered Hopper Car #556 ExVintage H O Scale Locomotive Tender , Brass, 4/4/0 No MarkingsHo Brass Key Imports Sp #4146 4-8-8-2 Ac-7 Ho Brass Key Imports Nickel Plate #568 H-6a Mikado NibOverland 6677.1 Omi Diesel Sd40-2b #b3339 "union Pacific" / Brass / Limited