Selling Marx trains

Since my advice on selling other makes of trains was popular, I thought I would give similar advice on selling Marx trains. Marx never got the respect that its competitors got, but its trains have built up a following over the years, and in the last decade as I’ve watched prices on competing trains slide, Marx has held its value.

Don’t expect to get rich selling off your Marx trains, but if you keep your expectations realistic, you’ll find an eager buyer, or ideally, at least two interested buyers so you’ll realize a good price at auction.

Although television will try to convince you otherwise, not all old trains are rare or exceptionally valuable. Since $20 train sets don’t make for good TV, they skip those. The saying in the 50s was that if your dad had a good job, you had a Lionel or American Flyer train, and if your dad didn’t have a good job, you had a Marx. Marx trains certainly were underappreciated in their day. You can make some money on them, but don’t expect to get filthy rich.

I collect O gauge Marx and American Flyer, so 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.

Expected value

When you sell them yourself, you can expect to get $5-$10 per car, $10-$35 per engine, and $5-$20 per accessory, depending on the item. A nice engine like a 333 steamer or the large plastic diesels could fetch closer to $75 or even $100. I’ve talked in depth about pricing before.

It’s helpful to 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

If you have a lot of trains to sell, it’s not a bad idea to spend $10-$15 to get a price guide. This will give you a good idea of what you have, what you can expect it to be worth, and sometimes a bit of background information. Plus, after you sell your trains, you can easily resell it for most of what you paid for it.

You would do some research before you tried to sell a car. As in automobile, that is. It helps to do the same thing with collectibles like trains.

Listing on Ebay

Listings that have a bit of information about the item tend to do better than a listing that says, “Old Marx 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 $5 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 Marx, the roadname, the car number, the type of car, and the scale (HO or O27) into the title. If there’s room, mention whether it’s plastic or tin, and the number of wheels, and the type of coupler (tab/slot, one-way, tilt, or knuckle). If you can’t get that into the title, get those details into the description. You can do that almost as easily as you can type “Rare Marx caboose LQQK!!!!” and it will get far more traffic, which will translate into bids.

Also, mentioning whether the transformer or locomotive works always helps. You’ll get more money for a working train. See my post on getting trains running again, and some more specific Marx repair advice.

Critiquing a listing

As an example, I found a listing titled COLLECTIBLE MARX TOY TRAIN 553 SANTA FE MIDDLE STATE OIL TANKER……. I’ve seen much worse than that, but I would have listed it as Marx 553 Santa Fe Middle States Oil tanker 6 inch tin tab/slot 4 wheel. It reads faster not being all caps. It also stands out in the listings because there’s so much information packed into the 70 characters.  More importantly, someone who’s searching for 6-inch, 4-wheel cars with tab/slot couplers will find it. If you have a slightly less common variant, those couple of words will translate into extra dollars due to the extra listing views.

Be sure to correctly identify the size and the coupler type in your title, then elaborate more in your listing.

Timing

Make sure your listings end in the evenings. Also keep in mind 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 cars and engines will sell well on their own; beat-up or nonworking items will sell better as a lot. Track will sell if it’s in nice condition, but only as a lot. Nobody wants to pay $5 shipping for a single piece of track. The wider O34 curves, with five black metal ties instead of three, are the most popular Marx track. It hasn’t been made in more than 40 years and there is no modern replacement for it.

Selling in lots

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 “Marx trains lot for parts/restoration” should do the job. Some people buy these types of lots to fix up and resell. Others find it enjoyable to fix up old trains and buy up lots to keep their parts pipeline full.

Selling Marx paperwork

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. Collectors are interested in old catalogs and paper. So don’t be surprised if your lot of paper sells for more than some of the cars do.

If you’re lucky enough that a receipt accompanies the paperwork somewhere, be sure to include that, either bundled with the paper or with the item it came with. If there’s a price tag from a recognizable store on a box or on an item, leave the price tag there.

Selling Marx Boxes

It’s not uncommon to find a Marx set in its original box. That box adds value, even if the box is in poor condition. It may not be much, but value is value. The only time to throw away a Marx box is if it’s moldy.

If you have the trains and the box they came in, you have a decision to make, whether to sell it all together or sell the pieces individually. Generally speaking, Marx sets usually consisted of several common items with one less common item. So breaking up a set can backfire on you, with the box and the uncommon item selling, leaving you with the common items unsold. Some collectors will refuse to bid on your breakup listings out of principle.

There are times when it makes sense to break up a set. But if you know that, you’re probably not reading this.

Photography

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.

Condition

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.

Pricing strategy

Let’s talk pricing. If there are tons of listings for a given item, just 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 $5, price at $4.99 or even $4.88. The price registers in many people’s minds as $4. 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, 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. So he’ll bid $1.25 to see what happens. Then someone will bid half what it’s worth. Someone else will bid 2/3. Then someone who really wants it will eventually place a bid. 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. My local dealer typically pays about 1/3 the book value of a train. The 67% margin covers his overhead and any cleaning or repairs he might have to make. If the item is something he knows one of his regulars is looking for, he may be willing to pay more since he’ll be able to turn the item over quickly.

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. You’ll get a better offer if the dealer has time to actually look at what’s in the box.

Collecting

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 Marx. Marx made a good variety of stuff that spanned exactly four decades. And even with the decrease in Lionel prices in recent years, the Marx items tend to be much less expensive to buy.

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. A couple of other decent keywords can be “Mar” or “Marlines,” to catch those items the seller didn’t properly identify as Marx.

Other makes of trains

Frequently when you find Marx trains, you’ll find Lionel mixed in too. Here’s advice on selling Lionel trains, which is similar. And if you sell trains, it’s only a matter of time before you find some Tyco. Yes, if you know what you’re doing, you can resell Tyco trains too.

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