Standard Catalog of Lionel Trains 1900-1942, by David Doyle.
2005: KP Books.
By Joseph Lechner
This is a companion volume to David Doyle's Standard Catalog
of Lionel Trains 1945-1969, which was released in 2004. Like
it, the new prewar volume is directed to two audiences: (a) persons
unfamiliar with the hobby, who have discovered or inherited a
toy train and who would like to identify it and determine its
monetary value; and (b) serious toy train hobbyists, who will
use it as a reference guide during their collecting and trading.
This book's organization is accessible enough to make it useful
to the former; its wealth of information and superb illustrations
make it a must-read for the latter.
The "train" chapters of this book are organized into
four sections according to track gauge:
A. 2-7/8" gauge (two-rail), Lionel's earliest toy train
production; manufactured from 1900-1905.
B. Standard gauge (2-1/8" between running rails, three-rail);
manufactured from 1906-1942. The phrase Standard Gauge was a
registered trademark of Lionel Corporation. IVES and American
Flyer built toy trains that ran on the same track, but were compelled
to call them wide gauge to avoid trademark infringement.
C. 0 gauge (1-1/4" between running rails, three-rail),
which Lionel introduced in 1915 and is still making today.
D. 00 gauge (3/4" between running rails, both two-rail
and three-rail); made by Lionel from 1938-1942.
Within each section, individual chapters on cars and locomotives
are organized by body type. Boxcars, stock cars, automobile cars
and refrigerator cars are all included in a single chapter titled "boxcars" on
the theory that non-hobbyists might not distinguish between them.
Doyle has grouped all train accessories in a single chapter
regardless of gauge. A toy train aficionado might know that a
certain signal was sold with Standard gauge trains; but the person
who just discovered a semaphore in the attic would not be aware
of this, and probably would not guess it, since Lionel rarely
built accessories to a scale that matched the trains. Even during
the more realism-conscious postwar era, Lionel sold numerous
crossing signals that were far too tall for O scale. I have long
suspected that the #154 highway crossing signal was originally
designed for Standard gauge. At any rate, many of Lionel's prewar
accessories were used interchangeably with O gauge and Standard
There is also a chapter on non-train toys made by Lionel, including
boats, airplanes, race cars (Lionel introduced an electrically-powered
road race set in 1912, anticipating the slot-car craze by five
decades!), and the famous stove for girls. This chapter also
discusses some items that I would have classified as trains,
including the Disney-character hand cars of the 1930s and the
infamous "paper train" marketed by Lionel during World
War II. The paper train, and most of the handcars, ran on O gauge
track, although some handcars had flangeless wheels for floor
Finally, a chapter on catalogs lists each issue published by
Lionel between 1900-1942 and pictures the catalog cover.
As he also did in his postwar Lionel book, Doyle lists an estimated
value and rarity for almost every item. He bases the values on
his more than 25 years of experience as a hobby dealer and a
frequent participant at train shows. Doyle uses a subjective
rarity scale (1 to 8) of his own devising. He defines rarity
using the question "If I do not purchase this item today,
how likely am I to have another opportunity in the future?" David
has been active in the hobby long enough to have a good understanding
of which items are hard to find. However, the absence of an item
at train meets does not necessarily make it rare. At a recent
Eastern Division York meet, I saw several postwar Lionel Canadian
Pacific passenger trains for sale, but not one section of Atlas
O 10" straight track. Is straight track really scarcer than
the #2296W set? Obviously not; the explanation for my dilemma
is that many collectors do not bother bringing pieces of track
to train meets.
The following examples of Standard gauge passenger cars from
the 1920s and 1930s illustrate Doyle's rarity scale.
1 (most common) #309 Pullman, pea green with orange trim (1927-1930)
2 #337 Pullman, olive green with maroon trim (1930)
3 #309 Pullman, Mojave (1926)
4 #418 Pullman (1923-1924)
5 #319 Pullman, maroon, lettered LIONEL LINES (1925-1927)
6 #309 Pullman, "State car" brown (1930)
7 #309 Pullman, "Stephen Girard" green (1934-1935)
8 (most rare) #332 baggage, "State car" brown (1930)
I suspect that Doyle's use of his own scale has resulted in
some rarity-inflation. His own definition cites the UTC lockon
as an example of #1 (most common), and the 2-7/8" gauge
Electric Express gondola, initialed by J L Cowen, as an example
of #8 (hardest to find). Ironically, David did not assign a numerical
rarity rating to any of the 2-7/8" gauge items in that section
of the book; instead he characterizes them as "too infrequently
traded to establish rarity". Thus, his #8 standard of rarity
just got even rarer.
One of the best features of this book is its outstanding photography.
Virtually every prewar Lionel piece that Doyle discusses is illustrated
with a color photograph. Many of the known color / trim variations
for specific items are pictured. For Lionel's earliest 2-7/8" trains
from 1900-1905, Doyle has photographed both original pieces and
also modern-era reproductions by Joe Mania, which are themselves
destined to become collectible classics. His photographs are
clear and well lit. Often, the significant details that distinguish
one collectible variation from another are to be found in the
construction and materials used on undercarriages. In too many
train guides, trucks and couplers are obscured by shadows underneath
the train. Doyle's photos are well illuminated, and these details
are clearly visible. He is also to be commended for the generous
size of photographs. In some price guides, pictures are the size
of postage stamps. In contrast, Doyle's pictures are large enough
to study and enjoy. Most of the pages in this book include a
full-page-width photograph. Bravo!
Hopefully, some of the people who might buy this book merely
to establish a selling price for Grandpa's Blue Comet set will
instead become interested in toy trains, and will decide to keep
them as working family heirlooms. For these readers, Doyle has
included chapters on how to recondition old trains and how to
set up and operate them. I have high hopes that new people will
discover the fascinating hobby of electric trains through reading