My Favorite Catalog
By Peter Atonna
Which are your favorite catalogs? After an article in the
recent CTT, that theme has been lively in recent days on the
TTML. Let me go out on a limb and say which is not only my
favorite, but perhaps the best catalog of all.
It is the 1948 catalog!
The year 1948 was still a Postwar transition year introducing
new items and had nowhere near the wonderful selections found
in the 1950’s. And, yes it was the catalog of the year
I got my first Lionel set, too. But that is not why I feel
it is the greatest - really. So why do I think it was the best
Here is why. Take a realistic look back at the trains of our
youth – locos and cars racing impossibly fast around
bowtie tight curves on a most improbable looking track placed
on wood or carpeted floors of bedrooms or basements, scattered
with blocks, cardboard buildings and the assorted junk of our
youth. But in our minds, this was the world in miniature and
we were controlling it, just as Lionel had dictated.
Why could this be so? Simply because our minds were able to
create a world for our trains to operate in because of the
visions laid out in the catalogs as much as because of our
youthful imaginations. It was the Lionel wish books that gave
shape to our imaginations.
A change in the format for illustrations from Prewar catalogs
to Postwar began in the 1940’s. In 1947, a hesitant introduction
of train sets placed in real world settings was made with the
illustration for the GG-1 set being introduced that year. Previously
almost all illustrations, when there was any background at
all, placed the train or accessory in a layout setting.
You were to imagine how the train would look operating on
a finely detailed layout. Or you were to admire just the detail
of the locos and cars themselves.
That was nice if you knew what a finely detailed layout might
look like, but when trains were placed in real world backgrounds,
our imaginations soared.
This was something we could relate to. Now we could really
see our Lionels connecting towns to cities, serving huge industries,
speeding passengers to the next terminal.
All created in our minds by the way of illustrations in the
wish book. And all had well recognizable, detailed representations
of Lionel trains, the ones we ran on our bedroom floor.
After introducing the concept in 1947, by 1948 Lionel boldly
moved forward with double page real world illustrations, even
for low priced sets, see pages 6-7. Note cleverly here in the
background, other trains are still Lionel’s, the Berkshire
Not all sets got the treatment yet, but again a two page spread
on pages 10-11.
Then there was the one that had me dreaming for months, the
#2140WS “DeLux Passenger Set” on pages 14-15. Oh
did I want that set. And no, it is not the one I got, parents
got me a less expensive 027 freight set that “would do
The second illustration innovation - locomotives drawn larger
Look at the GG-1 sets on pages 18-19 and then the F-3s on
the next pages.
You could hold these babes in your hands! And the kid was
ready to do so! (Even though the Santa Fe and NYC diesels showed
locomotives that somebody built, just not Lionel) In fact,
the GG-1¹s on pages 18-19 may be the greatest set illustrations
Lionel ever did, even if I still wonder what cars on the freight
set were hidden between the gondola and caboose.
Later entire catalogs would become a fantasy of trains in
real world scenes. Even accessories and separate sale cars
or locos were shown that way. The Lionel catalog became an
art book of miniature trains populating the real world and
Robert Sherman would lead the way with his great illustrations.
But it was with the 1948 catalog in which Lionel perfected
the techniques and set the standard.