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 Brass Shay Locomotive Train Engine Early Style Lot # 2Lionel Standard Gauge Brass No. 54 Electric Locomotive-2 Motors-1921-needs WorkHo - Brass - Orion - Union Pacific Coal Burning Turbine #80, 3 UnitsO Scale Brass LocomotiveAjin Korean Ho Brass Burro Crane 489200Precision Scale Iron Horse 16129-10 O Scale Brass Sp Sd-9 Black Widow Boxed '93United Hon3 Brass 2 Truck Shay Locomotive Train Engine Pfm Lot # 7Ho Scale Brass Heisler Locomotive Train Engine Project Lot # 15Hon3 Brass 2 Truck Shay Locomotive Train Engine Joe Works Lot # 5Hon3 Brass 2 Truck Shay Locomotive Train Engine Lot # 11Ho Brass Gnw 52 Old Time Steam Shovel W/ Motor Drive 489184United Ho Brass Shay Locomotive Train Engine Pfm Wayerhaeuser Lot # 6Ajin Korea Ho Brass Rotary Snow Plow 489122Ho Scale Brass: 55' Mckeen Motor Car, UnpaintedKtm Us Hobbies 3745 O Scale Brass (2 Rail) Prr 4-6-0 G5 Locomotive JapanSunset Models O Scale Brass Prr E6 Class 4-4-2 Locomotive 2 Rail Painted BoxedHon3 Narrow Gauge Brass 2 Truck Engine 489149Ho Brass Japan Early Steam Engine W/ 2 Trucks 489084United Hon3 Brass 2 Truck Shay Locomotive Train Engine Pfm Lot # 8Ho Brass Southern Pacific 9150 Long Diesel Motor Engine 489286Precision Scale 15285 O Brass 2 Rail Sp T-28 4-6-0 W Vandy Tender Exc Boxed 1988Samhongsa Brass Ho 2-8-8-2 3412 Engine 489385Hon3 Brass Logging Locomotive Train Engine Lot # 3Ho Brass Japan 4-6-6-2 3700 Drgw Engine 489063Hon3 Brass Shay Locomotive Train Engine Japan Lot # 4Hon3 Narrow Gauge Brass 2-6-6-2 Steam Engine 489349Hon3 Brass Shay Train Engine Locomotive Project Lot # 19Hon3 Narrow Gauge Brass Engine 2-6-2 489348Ho Brass Erie Motor Passenger Engine 4012 489302Hon3 Brass Crane Train Car Rolling Stock Lot # 9Ho Brass Wayerhaeuser Logging Locomotive Train Engine Lot # 10United Brass Ho Santa Fe 2912 4-8-4 Steam Engine 489386Tenshodo Ho Brass 4-8-4-2 4003 Steam Engine 489238Vintage United Pfm Brass 2 Truck Shay Hon3 Locomotive Train Engine Lot # 1Hon3 Brass Nwsl Japan Brass Locomotive Train Engine Project Lot # 12Hon3 Narrow Gauge Brass 169 D&rgw Steam Engine 4-4-2 489138Vtg Brass Import Santa Fe Railway Express Agency Baggage Car 263 Ho Scale MintHon3 Narrow Gauge Brass 2-8-2 #17 Steam Engine 489161United Brass Ho 2 Truck Heisler Great Northwestern 45 Engine 4894403rd Rail 'o' Pullman Brass 5 Car SetPfm Ho Virginia & Truckee Reno Locomotive Brass 4-4-0 Oil BurnerUnited Brass Ho 2-6-6-0 201 Engine 489239Hon3 Brass Locomotive Train Engine Early Style Japan Lot # 14Japan Brass Ho 58 2-8-0 Steam Locomotive 489042Ho Brass 4-6-2 Stl B&m 1153 Steam Engine Samhongsa Korea 489086Ktm Brass - Baltimore & Ohio No. 25 "william Mason" 4-4-0 - O Scale Hon3 Brass Locomotive Train Engine Early Style Japan Lot # 16Ho Brass Japan 2 Truck Old Time Logging Engine 489522Suydam 1624 Pacific Electric Steeple Cab Locomotive Brass HoHo Brass 4 Truck Engine 7034 Great Northwestern Drive Tender 489384United Hon3 Narrow Gauge Brass 2-8-0 65 Steam Engine 489159Ho Brass Southern Pacific Water Tender 489066Brass Ho 58 Colorado Midland Coal Tender 489045Nwsl Brass O Scale 2-8-2t, Japan,Ho Brass New York Central 60' 6" Heavyweight Baggage Car Metro Models MintBrass Oriental Limited Great Northern Heater Car #3 - Gn - Unpainted - Ho ScaleHo Brass Great Northwestern 28 2 Truck Logging Locomotive 489360Hon3 Narrow Gauge Brass Samhongsa 0-6-0 Steam Engine 489351Ho Brass Japan California Western M80 Galloping Goose 489070Brass Duluth Missabe Iron Range Railway Steam Locomotive E-1 2-10-2 Key Factory