Every month, or when I get around to it, a toy train that is odd or unusual in some way will be featured. These may be production samples, paint samples, preproduction mockups, factory errors or rare department store specials. Definitions of terms used in these articles are at the bottom of this page. If you have an item you would like to have featured in this series, drop me an e mail by clicking on my name below.
Here's a list of the Monthly Oddities.
Definitions of Terms Used in These Articles
Factory errors are items that would not have left the factory if the inspector had caught the error. These can be items with improper or missing lettering and graphics, assembly errors, casting and forming errors.
Prototypes are hand made items made before production of the regular items. They are very rare.
Production samples are normal items removed from the production line and marked with the production date for quality control and archival purposes. Most of these items made by Lionel are still in the Lionel archives. The Marx and American Flyer archives have been sold, and are now in the hands of collectors.
Special orders are items made by special request. Lionel would paint any item in the catalog in special colors if ordered by a customer. There was an order form for this purpose in use until the early thirties. Lionel would paint items in other colors when the color was being used for regular production. This could cause a delay of weeks, sometimes months, before an order would be completed. The service department coordinated this special painting work. Examples of these items are the weird color 402 and 408 sets, and possibly some of the odd colored early period engines. Unless original paperwork documents an item as a special order it may be a paint sample.
Paint samples are items painted in different colors to see what they would look like. The Mohave 42 locomotive may be an example of a paint sample for the 402 loco. Sometimes items that were already painted were repainted. If an item was later produced in the same color as the sample it will be impossible to tell if it is a paint sample or a regular production item.
Production variations. On items that were made in many runs there were usually changes made in the color or trim of an item. This was done to lower production cost, to modernize the line, to add realism and to increase the appeal. Some production variations were made in smaller quantities than others. Some variations produced in small quantities will bring a substantial premium. Others won't. For example the 800 series freight cars made in 1934 with mixed brass and nickel trim (Notch cars) in nickel colors are quite difficult to find, but are worth no more than cars in the same colors with all nickel trim. However, the 800 and 2800 series cars in rubber stamped colors with nickel plates command a substantial premium.
Factory Reworked Items. Sometimes in the manufacturing process items were assembled incorrectly. The factory would rework these items to create salable items. American Flyer sold many items in the thirties that were marked "Sold as Shop Worn" on the bottom. A subset are items factory assembled from parts. These could be a little different than normal production items or very different. In a future article I will show a Lionel 3814 merchandise car assembled from parts by the factory in 1943, and a pair of odd 022 switches also assembled by the factory during the war.
Special uncataloged sets were made for stores. These sets had different components than the cataloged sets, or items that were no longer cataloged. The set box and the contents are the only thing different. Many of these sets are actually quite common. Some are hard to find and contained components unique to the sets. A Lionel example of an uncataloged set with a unique component is the Sears sets pulled by a 229E . When Sears sold the 229E sets with 2800 series freight cars and green 2613 passenger sets there was a special tender included in the set. The 2666TS or 2666WS with whistle.
Department store specials are a subset of the Special sets. These are sets with special colors or lettering made for specific stores. Ives made maroon trains lettered for Wanamaker's, Lionel made special painted sets for Macy's, Montgomery Wards, and others. These sets were painted in different colors and were designed to allow the large chain stores to carry similar trains at lower prices without upsetting the small stores with lower bargaining power.
Export trains are items made for export. These can be the same as production items with the addition of a country of origin, or sometimes they were items made with special graphics for the export market. An example of a regular item with country of origin markings is the Lionel 817 series caboose. Examples of items with special graphics are Canadian Pacific engines made by Lionel, American Flyer and Marx. The postwar Lionel 2278 F3 is not an export engine. It is a regular catalog item made for sale here in the United States. Lionel also exported excess items to Europe during the thirties. Examples are Ives items made with Lionel components and the 4U/254 locomotives.
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