Last Updated on May 11, 2023 by Dave Farquhar
The Marx train set 3987 is a difficult set to pin down. There are a number of variations of it, some of them common, and at least one of them rather rare. What they generally have in common is being an electric train set, O gauge, headed by a Canadian Pacific Jubilee steam locomotive pulling 550 series freight cars.
The common 3987 variant
I own an example of the most common Marx 3987 train set. My example contains a CP locomotive, a 951 New York Central wedge tender, a number 59 Union Pacific livestock car, a 553 tanker, a 552 Rock Island gondola, and the ubiquitous 556 New York Central caboose. All of them were four wheel cars with tab and slot couplers.
Yes, in this set, Marx mixed a Canadian Pacific locomotive with a New York Central tender and caboose. A Commodore Vanderbilt would have been more appropriate, but these were toys, and subbing in a CP type locomotive was one way for Marx to meet a given price point when needed.
My 3987 came with a 50 watt 709 transformer and an oval of 027 track, four straights and eight curves.
It’s a fun set, and if it’s in nice condition, it displays well.
Age and value of the set
Two questions I always get are how old it is and what it might be worth.
The more common versions are much harder to pinpoint to a specific date. The contents suggest production probably started no earlier than 1939. And they could have been made, or at least sold, into 1942. Marx paused its metal toy production in 1942.
Production resumed, with some changes, in 1946. And we know for certain Marx did sell the 3987 set after the war.
The way to pinpoint whether a specific set dates to before or after the war is to look at the locomotive’s motor. If the motor’s center rail pick up is a single solid piece of copper, it’s from 1946 to 1952. If it is a piece of fiber board with two distinct pieces of copper, that is pre-war production and points to 1939 to 1942.
My example has $14.95 handwritten on the box. That is along the lines of what this type of set sold for at retail around 1950.
As for the value, I’d estimate it somewhere between $75 and $100 for the common variants.
If you have one and would like to set it up and run it, here’s how to set up a Marx train set.
Other variants of the Marx 3987 train set
I have seen one 3987 set that had a Commodore Vanderbilt locomotive in place of the usual 391. There are also sets floating around with a different variety of freight cars, substituting a B&O box car for the cattle car and a side dump car for one of the other freights. The B&O boxcars aren’t easy to find so its presence will increase the value of the set. A safe estimate for that variant would be around $150.
The rare 3987 variant
There is a rare variant of the 3987 that is a work train. It was headed by a CP locomotive, a CP tender, and featured the rare rail cars, spool car and wheel car.
The 3987 set was uncataloged, making it difficult to pin down a date of release. The work train cars give us a nice clue. We know the work train cars were only made in 1939 and 1940. So that makes the work train sets pretty easy to pinpoint, at least within a year.
If you have a Marx work train 3987 set, that’s rarer and more valuable. If it’s in nice condition and it’s complete, $350 isn’t out of line.