Friday, August 27, 2004

Mark Tobias Interview

I was at the New Haven Toy Train Show this weekend and I saw Mark Tobias of the New England Toy Train Exchange. For anyone not familiar with Mark:

1) He talks a mile a minute.
2) He has seen a ton of trains.
3) He is a sharp guy, has a quick wit and knows his trains.

In this hobby, there also has to be some trust and I definitely trust Mark. In my dealings with his firm, I have been consistently impressed. His auctions are definitely one of the best alternatives to dealers and shows. While the prices can get high, they often reflect realistic value, the grading is very accurate and the faults/problems are always out in front.

With that said, here are a few questions and answers I shot Mark. Thought you all might be interested to see his answers.

What is the rarest standard gauge item you have ever seen? Prototype Ives mechanical Crane; Rare Blue Comet set that ran in the Merchandise Mart in Chicago(All blue w/red stripes 400E); Lionel 1010 & Trailer MINT in original wooden crate, Like New Boucher Blue Comet....

Drool, drool, salivate, salivate.

What is the most remarkable item you have ever seen (the one that stands out in workmanship, quality, rarity, etc). Production Sample Marklin 4-8-2 'Cock of the North' in O ga, painted for American Market, NYC. It was breath taking! Sold for $80,000 US to museum in Europe.

Do you think there is a future for folks that remake items like Leland Detroit Monorails, etc.? Yes, As long as the quality is there and they market themselves. Also making additional items for sets like the Detroit would be cool. I.E. Switches, stations, variable height uprights... Jim Cohen has orders for many more Trolleys than he can ever produce. There is a demand out there.

Why isn't there much McCoy out there in the market? I have wanted one of his galloping gooses/handcars for a long time.

I never saw a lot of McCoy at shows. Usually the old time collections had a quantity, especially if there was a layout involved. The Cascade loco was an excellent puller and is sought after these days.

What trends do you see in Standard Gauge?

Trends in Standard gauge...I'm seeing some new interest in all tinplate, but condition is paramount. At shows, standard gauge runner grade is dead, unless it is presented as a set, preferably with track. Again, there is much curiosity about it, but I sense ignorance about its facility as a problem.

In the New Haven Show, out of seven layouts, where was the standard gauge one? It might have helped.

When I do exhibit work I always include Standard gauge. I let hobbyists know that it's alive and well. Lionel did their usual worst at promoting their modern Standard gauge line. I know, it is moving up in value because it ran well and carried the 'all important' Lionel name.

How about MTH standard gauge? Is it as strong as a collectors item as a Lionel Classics or McCoy piece?

MTH is trying, but, as with their O gauge line "collect-ability" is suffering because of huge depreciation in secondary markets. Most of the Standard gauge operators I know are traditionalists, and want Lionel, AF or Ives on their trains. Along those lines, I am seeing an upsurge in restored original Standard gauge, restoration projects and parts pieces.
It seems that these buyers would rather have a restored original as opposed to an MTH item.

What's the future of standard gauge?

Future... I think that the growing areas of original standard gauge are the Am. Flyer and Ives markets. There really isn't enough of it around to satisfy the interest, and Lionel only has a few rarities in the classic period, where AF & Ives have many. Lionel's best stuff, money-wise, is its Trolleys and early production high end. How many Green 390s, Crackle 400s and peacock 408E sets are ever seen, other than at world class events, of exuberant professionalism like NETTE's Sept 4 auction!!!?

I'll leave the shameless plug in Mark! Thanks for the quick talk!


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