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Thomas the Tank Engine Toy Trains: Guide for Collectors

My son and I have been collecting Thomas the Tank Engine toys for many years. We have several hundred trains now!

Are you a Thomas train collector, or are you interested in starting a collection? Learn about the different types of trains available, and discover which ones might be worth something.

Are you a Thomas train collector, or are you interested in starting a collection? Learn about the different types of trains available, and discover which ones might be worth something.

Collectible Thomas the Tank Engine Trains

For Thomas fans, there are plenty of trains to collect, starting with Thomas the Tank Engine himself. My son and I started collecting these trains years ago. We started with a wooden Thomas the Tank Engine, and it escalated from there. To date, we have several hundred assorted trains, many of which are the main character.

Beware: Once you start collecting these trains, you may not be able to stop!

Types of Thomas Trains

For the uninitiated, there are many different types of Thomas the Tank Engine trains to collect. Some types are easy to find in local or online toy stores, while others are harder to track down. If you like to shop on eBay, you'll find plenty of the trains, both used and new. These are the main types available:

  • Wooden Trains: These are probably the most popular Thomas trains to collect, due in part to their nostalgia. They range in price brand new from $11 (USD) to about $32, depending on how many trains are in the package. These are pretty easy to locate online and in your favorite toy stores.
  • Take Along Trains: These are easy to come by, and they're much less expensive than their wooden counterparts. They can be found in single, double, and triple packs. They are hefty, but they'll fit perfectly in the hands of your favorite toddler. They're built to stand up to a lot of punishment, which may also be the reason they'll last long enough to be handed down generation to generation (or collected just for the fun of it).
  • Battery-Powered Trains: The battery-powered models are also easy to find at your favorite toy store. They are slightly less expensive than their wooden counterparts and will require batteries to operate. The types of batteries required range from AA to C, depending upon when the toy was made. Many of the older battery-operated Thomas trains require the C batteries, which unfortunately slows them down on the newer tracks, especially if there are lots of hills on the track.
  • Pull-Back Trains: These models were designed for smaller children. All the child has to do is hold the train on the floor and pull it backwards. The train will then race forward by itself for several feet.
  • Remote Control Trains: These toys typically include the Thomas train along with several cars, which clever children usually fill with their other favorite small toys. This train requires several AA batteries in order to operate. The remote control is easy for small hands to maneuver and (fortunately) difficult to destroy.
  • Ertl Trains: The Ertl trains and their special track are becoming scarce. However, if you live in Europe, you'll probably still find new Ertl trains at stores that carry the Thomas line. Otherwise, eBay tends to be the easiest place to find the Ertl models.

What Trains Should You Collect? Are Any Types Valuable?

What you should collect really depends on what you like about the individual trains, though some types are more valuable than others based on their scarcity.

Ertl Trains

Personally, I enjoy collecting the Ertl trains because that line features some characters that aren't available in the other types yet. Many of these characters are from the books in the series.

Tips for Collectors: The Ertl trains are becoming valuable, so if you find them at a local garage sale, grab them up.

Wooden Trains

The wooden trains are very popular to collect; however, they have one major drawback, at least in my own experience. The paint chips fairly easily, and any child who plays with them constantly will eventually wear the paint off in some areas, as well as adding quite a few dents and dings into the wood. These trains can never be kept in a damp area, either; their paint will definitely peel off, and the wood will warp.

Tips for Collectors: If you choose to collect this version, keep them in their original packages—and buy a second set for the kids to play with. Also, keep on the lookout for special or anniversary editions; those increase in value quickly because the numbers are limited.

Take Along Trains

Take Alongs are not as popular as collectibles, with the exception of the limited edition trains, which are usually found during the holidays.

Tips for Collectors: Collect the unusual trains, such as the Christmas train and Easter train, that come out yearly (they're always different each year). Get them while they're hot, since there are only a few sent to each store.

Battery-Powered Trains

The battery-powered trains are lots of fun to collect, and their price makes it easy to amass the entire collection quickly. They should last for years, as long as the batteries are removed when not in use.

Tips for Collectors: Unless these trains are discontinued, their value probably won't increase in the near future. Buy them just for the fun of it!

How to Identify the Manufactured Year on Old Trains

Do you want to know how old your wooden Thomas the Tank Engine train is? Most of the wooden trains have the year they were manufactured printed on the inside rim of the wheels. Just turn your train upside down and look at the inner part of the wheels. You may need a magnifying glass to see the year clearly.

Similarly, many Ertl trains have their manufactured year printed on the underside of the trains.

Comments

Charlotte Gerber (author) from upstate New York on August 23, 2012:

Hi T24GLE - I personally do not know the value of the chair, but perhaps one of our other readers may know, and can enter their information here for you.

T24GLE on July 16, 2012:

Hi, I have a wooden Thomas the Tank Engine Kids Rocking Chair, I have looked around and cannot find others to get a rough value, it has Britt Allcfroft (Thomas) Limited 1997 written on it, are these quite rare? Sarah

Carl on June 01, 2012:

I bought our sons a thomas the tank engine bathtub sets and it had a captain boat which was miss printed with another character on it so is there a market for this if so please email me at CarlAwillis09@aol.com

Gladyis on April 15, 2012:

Gordon and Henry are two separate engines. 1992 Henry New In Box is worth $97 Henry is green. 1992 Gordon (Blue) new in box $98.

Rachael on April 14, 2012:

Hi,

I have a Gordon train and tender, but on the actual tender it says 'Henry's tender'. I can't find anything on the internet to say theres another one out there. Any ideas of what it would be worth? It has been played with, so the paintwork has been scratched.

Many thanks

andrew on February 15, 2012:

hi i have a 1984 diecast sticker face thomas the tank engine brand new in its box in perfect condition. what would the approximate value of this be? ebay has shown no results for the last 10 months of this the only 1 i have seen is one that was worn very badly at about $25 any light on this would be great,/?

Charlotte Gerber (author) from upstate New York on January 23, 2012:

Hi Joe, I'm not sure about this particular item, so I'm posting this so that others may reply to your question. Generally, if the error is on the train, it may be more valuable. Since it is on the packaging, I'm not sure.

I'll look into it though, and if I can find any information on this particular error, I'll write a follow up post.

Joe on January 19, 2012:

i have a take n play Mavis but the package says Isobella, is this a rare find that I should set aside or is this just one of those mistakes that has no value at all?

Gladyis on January 16, 2012:

Kay, I can help with dating your train. First, are there any dates on wheels? If not, your train is pre 1994. Is there a name on the bottom of the train? If so, it is pre 2001. Are the magnets round or flat? Rounded means before 1999.

Kay on January 14, 2012:

How do I know what year my train is from? I have a Henrietta that someone wanted to buy. I checked ebay and they are going for over $100. Mine is in way better shape, so I'm interested in it's value. I know it's at least 8 years old, other than that- I'm not sure how to tell which year it came out. (I have no original packaging)

Gladyis on November 25, 2011:

I am always interested in purchasing trains. you are welcome to e-mail me at gladyis@embarqmail.com I also love sharing pictures of my collection if anyone is interested.

Charlotte Gerber (author) from upstate New York on November 25, 2011:

Hi JML Schmidt - One way to gauge market value is to check eBay - there are always lots of Thomas trains for sale there - both new and collectible. Places to sell them include eBay, Craigslist and through local train clubs (many towns have them, though you may have to do a search on the Internet to locate them). Additionally, check with local antique stores- some do sell Thomas, Lionel and other models of trains too.

JMLSchmidt on November 22, 2011:

Have some rare and hard to find Wooden Thomas the train engines New in Box and never been played with or maybe not even been opened. Where do I find people that are interested in them and how do I figure out their value?

Thanks.

Gladyis on October 14, 2011:

This is a great book. "Collecting wooden character trains: Prices, Popularity, and collect-ability". I continue to collect Thomas and hope someday it will help put my grandsons through college.

Diane on October 12, 2011:

My nephew has some Thomas trains he is interested in letting go. Im not sure how to tell what to sell them for. There are a few that are wood, there are also some that are metal with plastic. Can someone please help me. I can be reached at dcisneros40@yahoo.com Thank you

Gladyis on May 11, 2011:

I am an advid Thomas Collector. I love my trains! I am always looking for the rare ones.

Charlotte Gerber (author) from upstate New York on March 28, 2011:

Hi Michelle, I am not aware of any actual "listing" of Thomas the Tank Engine train values. However, I do surf eBay frequently when I'm looking for specific trains to add to my son's collection. I think that is probably the best way to gauge values of trains, since the auctions are world-wide.

As a side note, trains that are in original packaging are valued much higher than those that have been played with. The next highest valued trains are those that have little or no signs of wear, i.e. Mint Condition. A good example of this is the Thomas Ertl trains in original packaging, which in some cases are selling upwards of $50 per train now.

If your brother has wooden Thomas Trains, some are very rare, even if in "used" condition, and they can fetch $50 or more per train too on eBay.

Michelle on March 27, 2011:

Where can I obtain a listing of the values of Thomas the trains? I have many from my brother who is now 21. Just wondering how I can determine the value. Thank you, ctcalabria@aol.com

Charlotte Gerber (author) from upstate New York on February 18, 2011:

Hi John, Many people sell them on eBay. In addition, check out local train clubs (there are always people in those groups who collect the ERTLs). A good place to post ads that you have trains for sale are the hobby stores that sell collector trains, like Lionel.

John on February 16, 2011:

Hi, Looking to sell several NIB ERTL thomas collection. How may i find people who collect them. John

jfott2@verizon.net

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