Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Why you should like the new Lionel catalog...

I was all ready to not like the new Lionel Vol 2, 2007 catalog. For the last couple of years since they introduced (and discontinued) the Standard Gauge Vanderbilt and Hiawatha, Lionel has catered almost exclusively to "low hanging fruit" Postwar reproduction sales.

Their attempts at prewar reproductions in the last several catalogs were singular, meaning that there was only one attempt per catalog and when the item was bought by collectors and even extensive runners, it wasn't exactly "collection" quality. Regardless, the Lionel name was on it and there was a tenuous wave in the direction of collectors and operators that like trains as toys and not as exact reproductions or scale models.

Change is in the wind and someone at Lionel listened to their customers.

I just looked over the entire Lionel catalog. Not just the tinplate parts that I will like but all of the parts including the Postwar reproductions as well as the new O gauge innovations and the new TMCC operating system that Lionel recently introduced.

First let's concentrate on the prewar products.

I do really like the fact that Lionel has actually created a brand called "Prewar Celebration Series". This is a very good sign for a collector such as myself and I believe for all collectors, regardless of whether they collect tinplate, scale, prewar or otherwise. It gives Lionel a bit of license to go back to the rich tradition of products it had prior to World War II.

I was initially skeptical of the attempt at the Flying Yankee. As a matter of fact, on the tinplate forums I poo poo'ed it completely. What changed my mind about this catalog is that we aren't seeing tinplate products as a one off or a special; there are multiple products listed in the catalog. The 262 set is the second run Lionel will be taking at this wonderful little prewar engine and if history is an indicator, Lionel will likely learn from its' mistakes early on and not re-create them in the second rendition or interpretation of the set.

The Yankee is a great product when it is part of a set of products. It's a yawner on its' own but it is a barn stormer in a catalog with other sets. When we look at Yankee pictures of the past in catalogs, it is rarely rendered by itself. It is always on a page with 2 or 3 other sets that hit similar price points. Typical JL Cowen marketing and hopefully the direction Lionel is heading now under the new/current management. Check out (below) how Flyer responded to the Lionel catalog in the 30's. Same tactic, slightly different trains.

The point is that these little sets are part of a trend, not a "let me dip my toe in the water and if I don't sell 10 million sets I am running home and crying to Momma".

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that it is highly likely I am going to purchase both sets. I want to reward Lionel for good behavior and frankly I think that we all should vote with our dollars and sense (no, that isn't a typo).

The 101 Trolley actually put me over the edge with this catalog. I already liked the catalog for a couple of other reasons I will outline later. I really appreciated and was heartened to see standard gauge back in the Lionel catalog. And this was a good product to pick; it is rare in its' original form and it is a gorgeous little trolley set. The price is completely reasonable and well worth it. Again, barring any unforeseen financial catastrophe the chances of me purchasing this product are near 100%.

They (Lionel) hit an exact focal point that collectors and operators look for in recent toy purchases: rarity, availability, manufacture (ie: playability) and price. This has a Lionel L on the side thus it is an authentic Lionel standard gauge trolley and the price point isn't so outrageous that I can't let the kids or guests try it out without blanching or grimacing (I can let everyone use it and not have to worry).

This is a big deal because it is 3 products that Lionel is introducing that aren't in the Lionel postwar cookbook as of late. One is an anamoly, three is a trend. It means that there is more than one manufacturer now producing prewar tinplate. That's good for us, all of us. The more track that gets sold, the more sets that get put out, the more Christmas trees that get trains around them the better off we all are in the hobby.

Now hold on, don't think I am going to proclaim my undying affection for Lionel in just one catalog. They're doing the right thing and that makes me happy as a customer and as a collector. I like seeing tinplate in other collections sometimes more than I like it in my own; human beings are infinitely creative and I guarantee that much of the enjoyment comes from other people having fun with their trains (and getting to watch, hear and see them). Lionel producing tinplate means that there will be more tinplate out there and that's good for everybody including other manufacturers!

Now the rest of the catalog. I liked it. And from those of you that know me or read me, you know that doesn't come lightly. I like postwar trains, I just don't collect them. This was a fine catalog that had some very nice innovations within the postwar train world. I found the sets and price points that they hit especially nice. I also liked the fact that Lionel introduced some products at lower prices. I do think they went a bit overboard with the Christmas stuff but I thought the Calliope car was a nice touch. Most kids have no idea of what a Calliope is; I wonder how it (the car) will sound?

I was glad to see the Polar Express back again as well as the elf handcar. I do wish Lionel would produce a tinplate version of the Polar Express; it would make that set a bit more special. Plastic tends to knock the wind out of even the nicest sets. Maybe some lithography? I also liked the halloween set, I think it will probably be viewed as the Girls set was by Postwar collectors. Poo poo'ed by current collectors and coveted 50 years from now.

The Hogwarts set looks nice. I've seen several flavors of it from European manufacturers. It isn't all metal which basically takes most of the excitement away for me.

The postwar stuff is also quite good. Again, better price points and some decent innovation with the roadnames and combinations (I like the handcars for instance) make this catalog stand out a bit.

The only real criticism I have is that I think the NASCAR and UPS licensing are out of place on Lionel products. The branding is inconsistent with Lionel and I am not sure what demographic they are appealing to. There's the usual Santa Fe/F3/GG1 sets and offerings. Those will probably be in Lionel catalogs until the end of time. I did like the offering of the inexpensive Hudson, I thought that the price is right and the engine tooling is quite nice; it would like great on a high rail layout or chugging around any postwar layout anywhere.

So let's recap: good catalog overall, getting much better tinplate offerings, overall offerings are positive. The new version of TMCC and the controller is rolling out and the venerable ZW is still available. Recommending the purchase/pre-order of the standard gauge trolley and if you are an O gauge collector, both tinpplate sets offered should stand out. Nice job Lionel, keep riding the trend. Please continue to advance the branding "Prewar Celebration Series", you've given collectors and operators something to celebrate.


No comments: