Lionel Blue Comet Train, ca. 1935
Appraised Value: $8,000 - $10,000 (2007)
IMAGE: 1 of 3
Appraisal Video: (3:18)
Collectibles, Sports Memorabilia
Leila Dunbar Appraisals & Consulting, LLC
GUEST: It belonged to my uncle, and he died, and my cousin got it. Then my cousin died and his wife asked me if I'd like to have it.
APPRAISER: Now you're a train buff?
GUEST: Not until this one.
APPRAISER: Do you know much about Lionel Company?
GUEST: I know they've been in business a long time, but, uh...
APPRAISER: Well, we'll fill in a few blanks for you.
APPRAISER: First of all, Lionel was actually the middle name of Joshua Lionel Cowan, earlier Cohen but later Cowan.
APPRAISER: He came over to the States and in the late 1800s, he developed the flash powder that photographers use. And it was so successful, the Navy contracted to use this flash powder for mine detonation. This is how he got his stake and he could start the Lionel Train Company, which he thought of when he saw a small fan and he tried to figure out how to use it. And he figured he'd put in a little motor and that's when he started with the toy trains.
GUEST: That's amazing.
APPRAISER: It wasn't planned, it just sort of evolved. He's the one who invented this size, which is called standard gauge.
APPRAISER: And what he endeavored to do with standard gauge was to make the most beautiful, luxurious trains for kids possible. And this is what he did. And this is considered to be one of his greatest accomplishments, the Blue Comet. It came out in the early 1930s, about 1930 to 1938. This was actually based, you know, after a real train.
GUEST: Oh, is it?
APPRAISER: 1929 to 1941, there's a train called the Blue Comet that ran a New Jersey central line down to Atlantic City and the Jersey shore. It was called the seashore's finest train. And it was competing with Pennsylvania Railroad. It was painted blue because of the Jersey seashore. And guess what? The Blue Comet, the Fey, the Westfall and the Tempel here, all named after comets.
GUEST: No kidding.
APPRAISER: The train was so beautiful that people would actually wait for it to come down the tracks so they could watch it go by. Three hours from door to door, that's what they advertised. And they advertised the finest in luxury. And when Joshua Lionel Cowan created this train, that's what he wanted to do as well. Let's take a look. Beautiful blue, just like the real thing. And if I tilt this and you look in, the actual train had triple cushion mohair seats. They even show a bathroom and a commode. There was a smoking room for the gentlemen. There's an observation deck which you see in the back of this train, and they had all the luxuries of that time. For a Lionel train, this is unheard of. You could never take the top off, and of course it had the spectacular electric light. All the little details were thought of to make this just like the actual-size Blue Comet. Now on the real Blue Comet, you know, you could buy the blue plate special for 75 cents or you could get a steak dinner for $1.25. Now let's talk a little bit about value.
APPRAISER: What do you think this might be worth?
GUEST: Between $2,000 and $4,000, possibly.
APPRAISER: Okay. Well, you know, that's a good guess. I'll tell you something. At the time this was sold, $70 to buy this in the 1930s, at the height of the Depression. You could buy a three- piece bedroom suite or you could buy a used Model T for that kind of money.
GUEST: Oh, my.
APPRAISER: I say for auction, I would put this at estimate $8,000 to $10,000.
GUEST: Oh, my.
APPRAISER: It's sold as much as $11,500.
GUEST: Good heavens. That makes me want to treasure it even more.
This website is produced for PBS Online by WGBH Boston. ©1997-2013 WGBH Educational Foundation.
ANTIQUES ROADSHOW is a trademark of the BBC and is produced for PBS by WGBH under license from BBC Worldwide.
WGBH and PBS are not responsible for the content of websites linked to or from ANTIQUES ROADSHOW Online.
PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.