The railroads of America’s heyday, when trains were the dominant form of transportation, symbolized freedom and manifest destiny. Their legacy lives on in the forms of collectibles that can be found in museums, railroad attractions and even at home. The memorabilia — often known as railroadiana — includes a wide range of items, from train tools to Lionel train sets to antique rail-related signs and china used on passenger trains.
Regardless of the size and scope of your collection, you’ll need to put some thought into where to sell railroad memorabilia before you get rid of it. A well-thought-out plan is essential to maximizing the return on your investment and avoiding being taken advantage of by collectors or even train clubs that aren’t interested in your collection.
If you’re willing to invest the time and energy it takes to catalog your collection, the best place to sell railroad memorabilia is to a collector or dealer that will buy it to resell at auction or to individual customers. However, this isn’t a sure-fire solution for achieving the maximum value for your collection; many collectors and dealers can only afford to pay about 30% of what your collection is truly worth. That’s because they will spend a significant amount of their own money on listing fees on eBay or driving to train shows and paying for tables. They may also have to clean up your collection, which isn’t free.
You can also try to sell your railroad memorabilia at a local hobby shop or to train clubs. In most cases, you will need to make a deal with these buyers in which they take your entire collection or pick out the pieces that are most desirable for their own collections. If you’re unwilling to do this, a better option is to post your inventory for sale on a Craigslist site. However, be aware that this approach could expose your collection to “cherry pickers” who will take the most valuable pieces and leave you with common or even junk items. You might want to consider having the items appraised first by a professional before posting them.