Trains are something so many kids love. That love extends into adulthood where collecting them is a pleasant hobby. However, as time marches on, more and more collectors show up wanting things they missed. So that also has older collectors wondering if the toys they have stashed away are worth anything, especially for the ever-popular Thomas.
Depending on rarity, age, condition, and materials, Thomas the Train can have a value around $19-$500 USD. Common varieties can usually only be sold for $15-$75 USD.
Unlike some other model train sets, Thomas trains are not as valuable. They are not going to make it into the thousands of dollars, but they can still fetch a hefty sum regardless. Keep reading to learn more about Thomas trains, their value, and more.
What Makes Thomas Trains Valuable?
As with most collectible items, Thomas trains have a few factors that determine how valuable they are. Demand is one of them, where something is only collectible if there are people out there who want it. Thomas has the demand for more trains, which is why they are still in production despite being decades old.
Here are the factors that determine the value of Thomas trains:
- Condition: Mint condition trains, meaning ones still in the box and looking new are more valuable than open, played with trains.
- Age: Trains over 25 years old are considered vintage and thus raises the value.
- Materials: Thomas trains have multiple ways they were made. Mass-produced diecast trains typically value less than their wooden counterparts which needed more precision.
- Rarity: Limited editions, misprints, pre-factory runs, etc. that weren’t mass-produced have fewer to go around and thus are more valuable.
Just because something has been played with doesn’t mean that it is no longer valuable, it just won’t be as valuable as a train that was left in its original packaging.
Which Thomas Trains are Most Valuable?
A rule of thumb is that something is almost always more valuable at auction than it is just going to a pawn shop or other store that needs to buy low, sell high in order to make a profit. Therefore, the most valuable Thomas trains have been sold at auction.
Here are some valuable Thomas trains:
- 1983 Hornby, mint condition, sold for £500 ($545 USD)
- 1983 Hornby, out-of-box, sold for $339 USD
- Pre-run factory set prototype, sold for $249 USD
- Thomas the Train Deluxe Aquarium set, original packaging, sold for $125 USD
As with most collectibles, old and in-box or extremely limited releases is going to be what drives the value of a train to the stratosphere. However, compared to other model trains, Thomas doesn’t get to be too much.
Types of Thomas Trains
There are six different types of Thomas trains available. Some are easy to find in local toy stores, whereas others are a little more difficult depending on geographical location. Rarer models will likely require looking online or at auction to find, but there is also always the chance a poor, unknowing soul will sell them cheap at a yard sale or something.
Here are the primary types of Thomas trains available:
- Wooden Trains: These are popular options to collect with the price ranging from $11-32 USD for brand new, currently in production trains. More trains in the package get higher price tags at the toy store.
- Take Along Trains: These are cheaper than their wooden counterparts, are a little bigger, and built stronger.
- Battery-Powered Trains: These are also cheaper than their wooden counterparts and require batteries to operate. Older models used C batteries which made them slow on tracks, whereas newer models use AA.
- Pull-Back Trains: These are the types of trains where, after pulled back, will roll forward itself for several feet. They were designed with smaller children in mind and can also take quite a beating.
- Remote Control Trains: These trains require several AA batteries, some for the train and some for the remote. It’s strong and easy to operate.
- Ertl Trains: These trains are becoming harder to find in the US but are still occasionally being sold in stores in Europe. However, their special tracks currently make them slightly less popular nowadays. However, this does mean that their collectible value is slowly starting to rise since they are getting harder to find.
Always keep a lookout for special, anniversary, or limited-edition trains in any kind as these are going to end up more valuable in the long run. Also, consider buying two sets if going for something new, so there’s one that can be opened and played with and one that can be squirreled away for later.
Which Types of Thomas Trains are Most Valuable?
Choosing to collect Thomas trains is going to be less focused on value and more on personal preference. None of them are going to reach the thousand-dollar mark, at least for some time. It’s more important to find ones in mint condition, keep them that way, and to wait for an appropriate buyer or auction if that is the inevitable goal.
However, here are some tips on each type for collecting purposes:
- Wooden Trains: These trains have paint that chip easily, risks damage, and cannot be kept in damp areas. They’re best left in their original packaging, if only for safety reasons. Keep a lookout for special or anniversary editions as their limited numbers allow them to increase in value quickly.
- Take Along Trains: There are only a few holiday trains sent out to stores each year, and each year they are different. These are the ones to focus the collecting powers on.
- Ertl Trains: These ones have some unusual characters that are from the book series not appearing in other sets. They’re also being phased out of production and availability in modern stores, so their value is slowly increasing.
- Battery-Powered Trains: These trains aren’t necessarily valuable and are built to last. As long as the batteries are removed when not in use, they should last a long time. However, unless they are discontinued, limited, or something of that nature, it’s unlikely that they will gain value.
Basically, collecting in general should be a fun hobby when it comes to Thomas trains. They are no Lionel or Hornby. They should be collected because it’s fun, with an added bonus of they do tend to increase in value a little bit. Especially the limited-edition ones.
How to Identify the Manufactured Year on Thomas Trains
It is easy to find the manufactured year on Thomas trains. Simply flip the train over. On most models, the manufactured year will be on the inside of the wheels. This is usually printed very small and away from a point where it will rub against a track, so some sort of magnifying device might be needed. The exception to this is Ertl trains, where most of them have the year printed on the underside of the train itself.
How to Value a Thomas Train
The long and short of selling collectible items, including Thomas trains, is that their value is whatever someone is willing to pay for it. The value becomes what the market wills it but do know that the high-selling Thomas trains are more the exception than the rule.
Keep an Eye on the Market
Popularity for things comes and goes. Currently, the interest in Thomas trains is going up. Keeping an eye on the market’s natural rises and falls will help to determine when to sell. Additionally, keeping an eye out for model train shows, toy conventions, and similar events is a good idea.
Look at websites like eBay and even specialized auction sites like Trainz, forums, or social media groups. Look for things that are similar to what needs sold and use those as generalized pricing points. There is also the option of going to a hobby or pawn shop. However, remember that if going to a store, they are going to try and turn a profit so they will offer less than what it is worth. Consider it a convenience fee.
One final note: Remember that asking prices are not sale prices. Just because something is listed high, doesn’t mean it will actually sell at that price. Try to also look up sold listings as that will give a more accurate depiction of what the market is willing to pay.
Get an Appraisal
There is only so much a single person can do by themselves. Having someone else to help finding a suitable price point is a godsend. Getting an appraisal helps to find out what sort of market value a particular train has or is likely to fetch at auction from an unbiased, third-party source. It keeps the effort to acquire, or the memories associated with the train out of the question and goes for just cold hard facts.
These are professionals who are more attuned with the toy market than the average, run-of-the-mill collector usually, so it’s a useful tool to have. They also can tell subtle differences between two similar trains that could be the difference between a failed sale and a successful one.
To top it off, having a certificate of appraisal helps to prove the value of the train, makes it so potential buyers are making a safer purchase, and is all around a benefit to the sale. Collectors love paperwork that goes with their items, and things like this help to have a solid number to watch as it increases in value over time.
Note the Details
Just because a train looks the same, doesn’t necessarily mean it is. There are so many Thomas trains that look similar but have slightly different values, names, and details. Especially Thomas himself, who has so many different variations that it can sometimes be head-spinning. There’s also trains that look similar to one another but have tiny details that differentiate them. These details will make or break the value of the train.
Here are some details to remember:
- Condition: Was it ever opened? If it was opened, was it ever played with? Is the paint chipping? How does it literally look, work, and function? Some Thomas trains have batteries, does it operate?
- Rarity: Thomas trains have been around a long time and are still in production. However, limited edition trains are frequent, so these are going to increase in value more than those that have lots of them out there. Retired and misprinted trains are also rarities which increase in value.
- Modifications: Has the train been restored? Has it been modified in any way? Changing some details can make a rare train worthless or bring back some value that had been lost to a common one. There are also custom toy enthusiasts who sometimes value these sorts of modifications over the default.
These are some of the things to keep in mind when trying to find the value of a Thomas train. They’ll also help an appraiser or really interested potential buyer determine the value of the train itself.
Part of what makes Thomas so popular is the nostalgia factor. It’s such a common experience across the generations to have played with Thomas trains, either themselves, at a friend’s or relative’s house, at school, or just in the back of a kid’s section at the bookstore or library. For some people, the love they had for these trains doesn’t wane as they get older, so they evolve into adult collectors. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how expensive or not a train is, it’s the memories associated with it.
How to Sell Thomas Trains
There are a few steps to take when trying to sell Thomas trains. It is typically recommended to find an appraiser if there is the suspicion that a train is valuable, as their expertise can be the difference between selling at a fair value or not being able to sell at all.
The first stage to selling a Thomas train is to research, research, research. Comb the market for the same and similar models, years, and conditions. Get an appraiser to help if necessary. Check all manufacturer details and look through databases, enthusiast pages, and chat with other collectors.
While there have been some Thomas trains that have sold for a hefty price, always remember that these are the exception to the rule. Also always remember that things will sell more at auction than at a local shop, and no matter where the selling happens, there will be fees involved in some capacity.
As with most collectible items, condition is a must. The most valuable Thomas trains are those that stayed in their packaging, undamaged, and looking brand new. However, not everyone has them like that. While an opened box does decrease value, nothing hurts value worse than how it looks. A dirty, chipped, banged up train isn’t going to fetch any price.
So, take the time to clean any train or even consider getting it restored. That will help increase the value and get the most out of a potential sale. Toy restoration specialists are able to restore a toy without damaging the value, though it still won’t be worth as much as it would have been had it not needed the restoration in the first place. It can help though!
Go to a Local Hobby or Pawn Shop
Now this isn’t going to fetch the best price on the market. They need to turn a profit, so if they offer even 50% of the value it’s a good bargain. However, this is a place to go for quick, relatively easy sales or some information on where else to go. Oftentimes, it’s also a good place to find an appraiser who can help determine the value of the train in the first place.
Try Selling Online
The internet is usually a wonderful place. It has the ability to connect with people from all over the world, which means more chances for a niche collector to arrive and want what’s being sold. There are many places to consider trying to sell the trains, from general auction sites like eBay, to auction sites specializing in model trains, to online forums dedicated to them.
Here are some tips for selling Thomas trains online:
- Write a clear and accurate description
- Include photos of the actual that are new and relevant
- Be honest on the condition, any restoration, or other sources you’ve used
- Mint condition is new. Like new is essentially fresh out of the box with limited usage.
It might take some time to find a buyer, so patience is key. Also remember that selling online might come with additional fees, including shipping costs. Additionally, consider selling on social media such as Facebook Marketplace or on forums. That tends to be a good place to find enthusiasts.
Sell Person to Person
There are hobby shows, toy conventions, and other similar meetups. If there are a lot of Thomas trains to sell, consider getting a booth at one of these events. People at these sorts of conventions are typically there to look at, find diamonds in the rough, or to find their weird little niche obsessions and are willing to pay for them.
If all else fails, there is also always the tried-and-true yard or garage sale. Try to organize one with neighbors, community, or similar so that people want to come to a lot of sales rather than just one random one out of the way. Then, put up signs, ads in the newspaper, and even post on local social media pages.
What to Do if Thomas Trains Won’t Sell
Thomas trains might be popular, but that doesn’t mean that they are going to be super in demand all of the time. They’re also not extremely valuable, so they’re not some hot ticket item. Newer trains, even mint condition, are not going to get the same reception as vintage. If it’s something someone can get just by wandering into a store, they’re also not going to see much love. Those trains that have been beaten up and played with for years also aren’t going to be worth much if anything. Sometimes, it’s best to just accept that it isn’t going to sell.
In this case, there are a few options to consider:
- Putting them into storage and trying again later
- Donating them to charity
- Handing them off to a friend or family member
- Taking them to a thrift store
The worst-case scenario is to throw them away. However, try to only do that if they are really broken and cannot be repaired easily. There are plenty of kids out there who would love to have them, so it’s usually a better, more ecologically friendly option to donate them. Besides, it also helps to spread the joy of these marvelous little trains to someone else.
Thomas the Train is a nostalgic piece of childhood that many collectors cling to. They’re cute, inexpensive, and tend to have at least a little value to them. As with most collecting, it should be a fun hobby rather than something to get into for the money. Thomas trains aren’t going to reach into the thousands like some other model train sets, but some do have the chance of hitting triple digits.
What matters most in the value of a Thomas train is the condition. A new in-box train is going to retain value far longer and even build it than one that was open and played with. After that, it’s the rarity. Limited, retired, and unique trains are going to be more valuable than common, mass-produced ones. It’s always a good idea to get ahold of an appraiser to help determine the value of trains if considering selling, as they will help to find an unbiased price point. Additionally, be sure to check sold listings as asking price and selling price are two very different numbers.