The first thing to point out is that serious collectors can spend a lot of money on model trains, so you might not be able to buy that special loco they've had their eye on, unless you are a very generous present-giver indeed!

One other consideration to bear in mind is the gauge of the model railway - buying an avid collector of N gauge an O gauge train will not be so warmly received as if you can buy someone the model they love, in the gauge they collect. So check out which gauge you should be looking for if you are buying a present for someone else.

If you want to collect the best, then a couple of manufacturers offer an amazing range. There are some great special editions being manufactured, for example, and it is also possible to buy vintage/second-hand models either on-line or by going to a collectors' fair. EBay is a wonderful source of model trains and accessories, for example. The collecting of vintage models can put a serious dent in your pocket but bring you much joy, especially if you are old enough to remember the vintage models from your own childhood!

model_train7For most American model railway enthusiasts, Lionel Trains will be a well-known name. A popular manufacturer in the 1940s and 1950s, the company started in the 20s and antique Lionel trains dating from those early years are certainly sought after. Any collector lucky enough to get his hands on the Liberty Lines 600E 2-6-4 will consider himself fortunate indeed and the Lionel Super 381E is most likely to be seen in a museum than a private collection, since only a hundred were ever made. So whilst these particular trains may be impossible to afford as a gift even if you could source them, Lionel Trains do make new models still and it is also possible to pick up a great vintage item that many a collector will love. To find something in your price range, try using TM's Lionel Price & Rarity Guide (which comes in two volumes) or Greenberg's Pocket Price Guide to Lionel Trains to assist you in your search - both books detail the prices you can expect to pay for Lionel trains. As the cost varies enormously according to the condition of the train, they are clear about how much you can expect to pay for a mint condition train, say, rather than something in fair or poor condition. If the person you are buying for is a real model railway enthusiast, they may well be delighted with a rare model in poor condition that they can restore, rather than a run-of-the-mill model in excellent condition that doesn't have any excitement value. It sounds odd to recommend buying someone a beat up old train for a present, but if you buy the right one, you could make someone very happy!

Bassett-Lowke was an English toy company founded around the turn of the twentieth century, which is well known for its O gauge locomotives made with great attention to detail. Superb production quality and careful construction meant that every model was excellent but the company could not survive financially in competition with the more mass-produced and cheaper models which flooded the market in the late 1950s and early 60s, and ceased trading some forty years ago. In the high-end vintage train market today though, Bassett-Lowke is a name to conjure with, and pristine condition vintage models might set you back two or three thousand pounds sterling ($4000-$6000). Fortunately for most collectors, in the last ten years Corgi have started producing brand new high end collectibles with the Bassett-Lowke name. These are proving popular once again, and Corgi have stuck to the original O gauge scale, producing beautifully crafted limited edition pieces, some of which even have a miniature smoke generator so they can produce real steam. This is top quality, but it comes at a premium price, with many models costing GBP500-800 ($1000-$1600). For the serious collector they are a must though. If you can put any of these on your present buying list, you will be likely to find yourself with a very pleased collector on the receiving end of the gift.

Bachmann is another manufacturer that produces a good range of collectibles, and theirs are often in HO gauge, which is perhaps advantageous to many collectors as it is such a popular scale. They also do the Graham Farish range in N gauge, and both of these are much more affordable, being in the hundreds, rather than the thousands of pounds sterling. Many have digital control and a range of features which make it worth putting the loco on the tracks and using it, whereas some collectors of other top end models prefer to keep them pristine in the original packaging. To be honest, if they paid three thousand pounds/ $6000 for one rare vintage locomotive, who can blame them! Like Lionel, Bachmann trains can be sourced on the internet as well as at fairs. Do be careful with Bachmann though as some of the older models are not top quality, but anything from the "Plus" or especially the "Spectrum" range is likely to be much better than from the standard range.

On thing to consider in a top quality model train is whether it supports DCC or Digital Command Control. This is a means of powering each individual loco by means of a decoder fitted to the train which responds to commands from a DCC controller. Many top quality locos can now be bought with a decoder already installed and the ability to operate the train independently of the power in the track in a great step forward in railway modelling. If the train is not DCC ready it is worth asking if it can be converted - i.e. can you fit a DCC chip yourself? In a top end loco it is a real advantage - it allows the modeller to include on-board sound and lighting effects, for example.

Though it is impossible to recommend particular models as the top ones to have, as that will depend on the special interests of the collector, my personal favourites include Hornby's OO gauge R2610 Caledonian or the Flying Scotsman LNER Class A1 4-6-2 loco (R1072). Happy collecting!

-- Lauwra Magdalena Suwanta

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