What Is A Tinplate Train?

Since the 1920s tinplate trains have been a favorite among enthusiasts of all ages. You may be wondering if a tinplate train is the same as a model train. Understanding the difference between types of replica trains is helpful when collecting or setting up a working display.

If you ask any seasoned train enthusiast they will likely tell you that a tinplate train is a replica of a real train that is not made to the correct scale. Tinplate trains often fall into the toy train category as opposed to model trains which are done to spec but on a smaller scale.

 To learn more about the history of tinplate trains and other interesting information, continue reading.

Trains – An Ageless Passion

Young or old you have to admit that there is something fascinating about trains. For many, there is a kind of nostalgic and magical essence about these massive movers that captures their interest and creates a lifelong passion.

The size and power of these lumbering locomotives are enough to impress anyone, factor in how cool they look and you have the entire package; what’s not to love about a train?  Regardless of your age, you cannot deny the excitement you feel rising in your gut when you see a powerful engine pulling a long line of cars along the rumbling tracks.

Trains revolutionized the way this country operated by linking communities together to transport food and supplies and created a more efficient way of travel.

The sheer coolness of these machines is one reason tinplate trains became so popular among children and train enthusiasts alike. Continue reading to understand what a tinplate train is and other interesting information.

History and Definition of Tinplate Trains

Something that many people are not aware of is that model trains were created around 1784 nearly 20 years before the first train was ever built.

They were originally created as prototypes for the actual locomotives that were to be built. These models were made to the exact specifications of the trains which they were proposing to build, only on a much smaller scale.

In the 1920s the era of machines was on the rise and due to the increasing popularity of trains, Frank Hornby released the first tinplate trains. Not long after Hornby started production of these stamped beauties a french company called Edobaud produced their line of tinplate trains.

Edobaud’s tinplate trains were only manufactured for around ten years and sold mainly in higher-end stores. Since then thousands of companies have evolved and produced their versions of these vintage toys worldwide.

tinplate trains
Roger Carvell

The Heart of the Matter – What is a Tinplate Train?

Now that a little bit of history has been established we can discuss what a tinplate train truly is and how they differ from the original model trains.

You may get varied answers depending upon who you ask but in general, a tinplate train is defined as a replica that is not built to true specifications. For this reason, tinplates are usually classified in the toy category.

Tinplate trains were originally made of thin metal with stamped images and details in addition to other metal parts and mechanisms but the category has expanded to include toy trains made with plastic or a combination of materials.

Originally tinplate trains did not have working parts. Some models had wheels that could be turned by manual power but battery-operated and electric versions did not start evolving until a few years later.

Tinplate trains were made with the intention of mass production for large numbers of people to enjoy. They were meant to be played with as opposed to their more exact counterparts which are designed more for display purposes.

The fact that tinplate trains are generally classified as a toy does not harm their value or collectability; to learn more about these classicly collectible toys continue reading.

Value and Collectability of Tinplate Trains

So now that you know a little about the history of tinplate trains and how they differ from traditional model trains you may be wondering how much they are worth. Knowing what to look for and understanding what makes these collectibles valuable and desirable can prevent you from purchasing models that may not be authentic.

Generally, the following things constitute the value and collectability of a tinplate train:

  • Aesthetic features
  • How many replicas were made
  • How many were produced
  • The condition
  • The manufacturer

These and other things can play a part in the value and desirability of tinplate trains.

Continue reading for more details on what affects the value and what to look for when collecting tinplate trains.

What to Look for When Collecting Tinplate Trains

If you have a passion for trains and are new to collecting tinplate models, it can be difficult to differentiate what is valuable and collectible and what is not.

It can be easy for someone who is inexperienced to overpay for something because they are not aware of what to look for. The following section will elaborate on what makes a tinplate train valuable and how to know if you have authentic models.

Keep Your Budget on Track – Knowing How to Value Tinplate Trains

To avoid being bamboozled when purchasing tinplate trains for your new collection it will help to be mindful of the following things.

Aesthetic Features

Although the history of trains and these toys is interesting what really draws people to these classic toys are the aesthetic features. In other words; how cool do they look?

  • If it has parts that move manually or electrically
  • The color and style of the paint job
  • The detail of the stamped designs
  • The type of engine or car

Beware of Copy Cats

Imitation is often thought of as the best form of flattery, but when it comes to collecting trains or anything else for that matter knock-offs can really hurt the value of a particular item.

What this means is even if you have a super rare tinplate train, if another company has made replicas of that model the value of the originals will depreciate.

Even though the replicas are not as valuable some collectors may opt for the less expensive version to complete a display and save a few bucks.

Less Is More – Rarity Counts

This is similar to the issue with copycatters. For instance; if there were only 100 units of a particular train car manufactured they will likely be worth more than a model that had 1000 units manufactured.

The more units built the less value associated conversely the fewer units built the will increase the value and collectability. It is helpful to locate the manufacturer’s stamp to see where your train fell on the assembly line.

For example, if you have a train car that was 1 of 100 it would be more valuable than the same model that is numbered 50 of 100.

The Condition Matters – To a Point

The condition of the train goes beyond simple aesthetic pleasure. When evaluating a tinplate train it is important to consider the following:

  • Are there any moving parts?
  • Do the moving parts work as originally intended?
  • If applicable; do the electronics work properly?
  • Is the paint faded or scratched?
  • Is it in original condition or has it been restored?

Don’t discard a train simply because the moving parts or electronics do not work anymore. If the train is in otherwise perfect/mint condition it can still retain its value as a collectible item.

A train that has been restored can lose some value to serious collectors just as an old automobile that has been restored can lose value to a serious car collector.

It is important to carefully inspect the train. Look for indications of restoration such as too fresh of a paint job, or paint that does not match in places. If there are moving parts, inspect to see if they are all original and have not been replaced.

Who Done It? The Maker Matters

When it comes to tinplate trains certain manufacturers stand out above the masses. Some of those manufacturers will be discussed further along in the article.

It is good to do some research and find out which makers are the most sought after and how to identify the trains that they made.

To locate the manufacturer of your tinplate train inspect it for the special imprint of the company that built the train. This is called the maker’s mark. Each company will have its own lettering or symbol to authenticate the piece.

If you cannot find a maker’s mark on the train it is likely a replica and not worth as much money. Just because something isn’t worth a lot of money doesn’t mean you can’t add it to your collection.

Don’t forget that the reason you are collecting is you are passionate about trains so if you find something you like, get it!

Familiarize Yourself with Current Market Pricing

If you are serious about collecting tinplate trains or any other item it is important that you do not go blindly shopping for pieces to add to your collection or display.

It can be very helpful to do some searching online to see what tinplate trains are selling for and which models are most popular among enthusiasts.

Having a good understanding of what things cost will prevent you from overpaying. It can help you to shop around and get the best deal.

Original Packaging

If you are able to obtain a tinplate train that has any original packaging, manuals, or paperwork a lot of value will be added.

When it comes to collecting, anything that has original marketing materials such as the above-mentioned items will always be worth more money than a model without those items. They complete the item and make it more authentic and interesting.

What are Tinplate Trains Worth?

As you can see from the list above, many things can affect the value and price of a tinplate train. If you are wondering how much money they are worth you can expect to pay anywhere from around $15.00 to $50.00 for an average collectible.

Of course, models that are unique or in mint condition can bring much more depending upon who is interested. The more demand for a particular model the higher it will be valued. Some models can run into the hundreds or even thousands of dollars to the right collector.

Keep reading to learn a little about some of the most popular tinplate train manufacturers in the section below.

tinplate train
Leif Jørgensen

Popular Tinplate Train Manufacturers

There are thousands of tinplate train manufacturers worldwide so it is impossible to name them all. As mentioned above, some tinplate train builders are more popular and sought after.

The list below will give you a good place to start researching, as you begin your research you will be amazed at how much information is floating around on the world wide web. You may be introduced to a whole new world of trains you never knew existed.


Hornby was manufacturing toy trains pre WWI but when the war was over they began to build their line of tinplate trains which became popular worldwide in a short period of time.

The original tinplate train line was designed for higher-end shops and to be sold on the foreign market. As popularity grew, a less expensive line of tinplate trains was created to make the toys more obtainable for the general public.


Even though Bachmann had been around since 1833 they did not enter the tinplate train market until the 1950s. At this point, they were already becoming popular for their accidental creation of what was known as Bachmann Plasticville; plastic fencing and accessories for working train displays.

They figured that since they owned the market for model/toy train accessories they may as well manufacture their own train sets as well. This worked out well for them and Bachmann is still in business today but has merged and evolved tremendously since the mid-1800s.


As mentioned earlier in the article, Edobaud created their versions of the tinplate train shortly after the popular Hornby models were made. The French company sold its tinplate models exclusively in specialty toy stores and high-end hobby shops.

The classic design and details of these trains have helped them to retain their desirability among collectors. Edobaud tinplate trains were inspired by the revolution of machinery that was taking place all around the world.


Another company gaining momentum around the turn of the century, Lionel began building toy train sets that were run by batteries.  These sets were originally intended as marketing displays in department storefront windows but over time evolved into the tinplate trains we know and love today.

By the time the 1920s rolled around Lionel was a household name. Every year Lionel would put out a catalog featuring all of their tinplate trains and other products.

These catalogs became popular among children as they were brilliantly rendered images; the excitement children experienced when they came out could be compared to viewing the popular TOYS-R-US catalogs from the 1980s and 90s.

Louis Marx and Co.

Louis Marx and Company was established at the turn of the 20th century they did not begin building their line of tinplate trains until the mid-1930s. Marx tinplate trains were more economical than some of their competitors and often considered to be less valuable at the time.

Due to the low sale price of Marx tinplate trains, it was often thought they were not made with the same quality as other brands however that is not the case. Marx’s trains while economical were made with quality materials and had aesthetically pleasing designs which is another reason this particular line of toys lasted for around four decades.

If you are looking to expand your knowledge about the history of trains and the evolution of model and toy trains continue reading for information on destinations just for train enthusiasts like yourself.

A Trip Through Time – Train Museums for Your Bucket List

If you are passionate about trains and the history that goes along with them try adding a few of these popular train museums to your next trip itinerary.

California State Railroad Museum

With over 21 fully restored locomotives and various railcars, the California State Railroad Museum leaves every visitor with a better understanding of the impact that the railway system has had on our country and civilization.

The museum was established in 1976 and plays host to local educational facilities and provides historical reenactments showing how the railway system has evolved over the years. Throughout the year train rides are provided to promote the history of the railway and preserve the museum.

Colorado Railroad Museum

The Colorado Railroad Museum was created in the late 1950s as a way to keep the state involved in preserving the railways that travel through the mountains. The museum’s structure was replicated to appear as though it is an original structure from the 1800s which adds to the appeal for visitors by creating a more authentic experience.

A special bonus to visiting the Colorado Railroad Museum is that guests have the option of watching the restoration process of these massive locomotives by way of a special viewing room.

National Railroad Museum

This massive museum was first established around the mid-1950s in Wisconsin by a group of local train enthusiasts as a way to help preserve the history of the railway system.

This museum houses one of the country’s largest train collections as well as other displays and historical information. It is said that there are over 300 employees and volunteers keeping this museum operational for the 100,000 plus visitors each year.

National Toy Train Museum

Collectors and train lovers of the world unite! If you want to get familiar with the history of model/toy trains you cannot miss the National Toy Train Museum. Located in Strasburg, Pennsylvania this toy train museum has been bringing joy to collectors of every age since 1977.

Throughout the year the museum regularly changes and updates its displays to keep visitors coming back. You will see some of the largest, most detailed working displays you have ever laid your eyes on. This is a world-famous museum with an ambiance that keeps kids of all ages passionate about trains.

All Aboard – Exciting Railways to Visit

If you want a more immersive experience try taking a trip on some of the famous railways that allow you to view the country and its ever-changing scenery to keep you from getting bored.

Ethan Allen Express from NYC to Vermont

If you are looking for a nice day trip through some of the best foliage in the country don’t skip the Ethan Allen Express. You will travel through the picturesque towns of New York’s Hudson Valley and make your way up to and along the breathtaking Green Mountains.

Eventually, you will wind up in the quaint town of Rutland, Vermont. Once you have arrived in Rutland you will be pleasantly surprised with the variety of local shops and the amazing farmer’s market.

Mt. Washington Cog Railway – Bretton Woods, New Hampshire

If you have even the slightest fear of heights you may want to steer clear of this train ride; however, if the fear of careening off the side of a mountain in an ancient railcar that is traveling along a rickety track is not an issue for you continue reading.

The Mt. Washington Cog Railway offers some of the most amazing views you will see via train in the US. People have traveled from all over the world to visit the top of Mt. Washington whether they are driving, hiking, or taking the train it is definitely a destination to add to your bucket list.

If you can get past the terrifyingly high incline to the top of the mountain you will be blown away figuratively and literally if you don’t hold on because Mt. Washington has been known to experience winds strong enough to blow a person off the top.

Narrow Gauge Railroad from Durango to Silverton, Colorado

Colorado is one of the most diverse states when it comes to the scenery which is why the Narrow Gauge Railroad made this list. You will see a variety of sights and landscapes as you enjoy this almost 50-mile trip around and through the mountains of Colorado.

This railway trip is popular as it gives a person a true sense of what it was like to live during the days of the wild west.

Childhood Fascination Turns to Lifelong Passion

For most people, a love of trains began at a young age, but whether you are nine or ninety it is never a bad time to start collecting. Now that you understand the differences between the types of replica trains and what to look for when buying, you can curate a collection that any train enthusiast will toot their horn for!


Lifelong Rail Enthusiast and Owner of Worldwide Rails

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