I got an inquiry last week about selling Tyco trains. As a child of the 70s and 80s, I certainly remember Tyco, and in recent years Tyco has gained a bit of a following.
If you’re looking to sell some Tyco gear, you certainly can do it, but you have to keep your expectations realistic. You’ll probably be able to sell it, but don’t expect to get rich off it.
Although television will try to convince you otherwise, not all old trains are rare or exceptionally valuable. HO scale Tyco trains were a popular Christmas present in the 70s and 80s. The people giving them remembered Lionel and American Flyer trains from the past, and the Tyco trains cost less and (at least theoretically) took up less space.
A lot of these trains sold and they tended to be fairly well cared for. It was the Star Wars and GI Joe toys that took the brunt of boys’ abuse. And the Tyco trains were inexpensive to start with. That doesn’t make for a recipe for high prices today. And since the cars weren’t very detailed, especially by modern standards, there’s no demand from contemporary scale modelers to help prop up prices.
While I don’t collect Tyco myself, (my thing is O gauge Marx and American Flyer), I’ve looked at thousands upon thousands of Ebay listings so I can tell you what works in Ebay train listings and what doesn’t, what to expect to get, and where to look for information to enhance your listings and hopefully wring out another dollar or two from your efforts.
When you sell them yourself, you can expect to get $2-$15 per item, depending on the item. A working engine fetches more than a freight car, and items in nice condition in their original boxes sell for more than loose items. Search Ebay sold listings (not currently active listings) to get an idea what the trains are actually selling for. Some people have $2 cars listed for $12 but that doesn’t mean people are buying them at that price.
Research and Listing
If you have the packaging, that helps you determine the age of what you have, and mentioning the box color can help interested buyers find your auction. Blue boxes date to the 1950s, red boxes to the 1960s, and brown boxes to the 1970s and 1980s. Searching tycoforums.com, you may be able to find more information. Listings that have a bit of information about a car tend to do better than a listing that says, “Old Tyco train. Rare! Not sure if it works. Sold as-is. Perfect for your collection.” Then again, you don’t want to spend half an hour researching a $2 car either, so look for balance.
Keep in mind when you’re writing your description and especially your title, any word or phrase that isn’t something that someone is likely to punch into the Ebay search box isn’t adding much value. Be sure to get the word Tyco, the roadname, the car number, and the type of car into the title. If there’s room, get the box color (if you know) and/or year Tyco made it (if you know) into the title. You can do that almost as easily as you can type “Rare Tyco caboose LQQK!!!!” and it will get far more traffic, which will translate into bids.
Make sure your listings end in the evenings, and prices tend to be higher in the fall and winter than in the spring and summer. Be sure to mention you’re willing to combine shipping, and know when to sell singly or in lots. Nice-condition boxed cars and engines will sell well on their own; beat-up or nonworking items will sell better as a lot. Track will also sell better as a lot–nobody wants to pay $5 shipping for a single piece of track.
Incomplete, broken or unworking items will sell, as long as you list them as such. A series of clear pictures showing exactly what you have and a title like “Tyco trains lot for parts/restoration” should do the job. Some people buy these types of lots to fix up and resell. Others enjoy fixing old trains and buy up lots for spare parts.
Speaking of lots, any papers that accompany the trains have sales potential too. It’s best to bundle instruction sheets with what they came with, but if that’s unclear, you can sell the instruction sheets and any catalogs you found as a bundled lot. Don’t expect to make a fortune off an old catalog, but I would think you’d make a couple more dollars at least, which is better than putting them out for recycling.
Take clear photos that show all sides of the item so bidders know you aren’t hiding anything. Ultimately it’s the photos that are going to sell your stuff, for two reasons. Many buyers identify what they’re looking for by sight, not necessarily by searching. Even those who search are going to look at the photos to decide whether the piece is good enough to be worth a bid. If you have clear photos, you have the advantage over someone who snapped a picture in a hurry in poor light and didn’t even bother to focus and just uploaded it to see what would happen.
I can’t tell you how many items I’ve seen listed as “mint” that weren’t. Mint means the item is just like it left the factory, unused, and absolutely perfect. Some new-in-box items aren’t quite mint. It’s not graded on a curve either. Mint is mint, whether it was made this morning or 100 years ago.
I wouldn’t even bother mentioning condition, frankly. Good photographs say all you need to say about that. The risk when you bring up condition is that your buyer won’t agree, then will make a claim against you. It’s harder to do that when your item has a clear photograph.
Let’s talk pricing. If you see tons of listings for a given item, price it to move. Consider just listing it buy-it-now at the lower end of the range if you have a lot of competition. Pay attention to pricing psychology. If the item frequently sells for $4, price at $3.99 or even $3.88. The price registers in many people’s minds as $3. But as my grade-school-aged son says, “it’s a trick to get almost a whole extra dollar.” The key is almost.
If you want to try to get more thanks to auction fever, here’s how. Start the bidding low (no higher than 99 cents) and don’t put a reserve on it. If you get multiple bids, most of them are going to come in the last five minutes. But to get the best price you want to get a few early bids. The low price will get you there. Someone who doesn’t desperately want the item will see it, be reluctant to let the item go for 99 cents, and bid $1.25 to see what happens. Then someone will bid half what it’s worth, and someone else will bid 2/3. More often than not, the item will end at something close to the going rate.
That covers a lot of ground that’s mostly specific to Ebay. For more on Ebay, see my earlier post, Getting started with Ebay.
Selling to a dealer
When selling to a dealer, expect much lower prices. I had a paper box full of assorted HO scale trains, much of it Tyco. I sold it to my local dealer for $20 flat. He knew who he could sell it to. And it got a box of trains out of my basement with minimal effort on my part. So I think we both walked away happy.
Not all hobby shops deal in used trains, so it’s not a bad idea to make a phone call first. Tell the dealer what you have and ask if he or she would be willing to take a look at it. It’s also not a bad idea to ask when would be a good time to bring them in. Some hours are busier than others, and you’ll get a better offer if the dealer has time to actually look at what’s in the box.
On the flip side, if you enjoy nostalgia and the thrill of the hunt and don’t have a lot of money to spend, you can do worse than collecting Tyco. Tyco made a good variety of stuff over the course of about four decades, and at least in the 1970s and 1980s. The product line even included operating accessories, a la postwar-era Lionel. But even with the decrease in Lionel prices in recent years, the Tyco items tend to be much less expensive to buy. At a couple of bucks per car, at least for the common items, it’s much less expensive than pursuing many other 70s and 80s collectibles.
And here’s a tip if you want to search for bargains on Ebay. Look for those bad listings I talked about. Key words include untested, lqqk, and rare. (Few things are.) Here’s a helpful link that will find some of those for you.