Marklin was founded in 1859 and is based at Göppingen in Bavaria. Although it originally made doll house accessories, today it is best known for model railroads. In some parts of Germany and in Sweden, the company’s name is synonymous with model trains. Marklin HO trains (1:87) appeared in 1935, and the diminutive Z scale ( 1:220) appeared in 1972 —under the name Mini-Club trains.
Christmas 1955 found the family on the Nellingen Kaserne, in Bavaria, Germany. Two identical, brightly wrapped, rectangular packages appeared under the tree. They contained a dark red box divided into 3 compartments with a large steam locomotive image in the top. Both contained 3 rail metal track, a small Deutches Bundebahn engine, and 3 two axle freight cars. Mine was a 0-6-0T seam engine and my brother Dave’s set had a small electric switcher. In a separate box was an all metal AC power pack that generated 50 cycle current (this would be the same for Lionel O scale trains, but not American HO which was DC powered; it featured color coded plugs ins for track power and accessories).
The attraction started a year earlier when we rode in a steam powered passenger train from Frankfurt to Stuttgart, and there were plenty of steam trains running in local train yards, and most were still running when we left in 1957. We joined the many servicemen and their families who bought, enjoyed, and brought back to the states, Marklin train sets. In Arizona, we see plenty of older Marklin trains and sets in the communities surrounding Luke, Williams and Davis-Monthan Air Force bases as well as Fort Huachuca.
Marklin trains, like other European manufacturers, mark the brand on the underside of the equipment. The 1950’ through early sixties trains usually featured a highly detailed locomotive plastic shell with a heavy metal underframe with a pick-up “shoe” to draw power from the third rail in the middle. After 1950, few had metal superstructures such as the US prototype ATSF F-7A in Santa Fe Super Chief colors. Eventually the third rail in the middle was replaced with “studs” which were more “invisible” than the third rail and then the track was converted to plastic. The car metal bottoms with long springs attached to the couplers at each end were replaced with plastic. As German railroads changed equipment, models of longer cars with 2 axle trucks at each end instead of 2 axles, emerged.
Two of my favorite Marklin train cars were the wine car with two large casks and the small green guard van with the brakeman’s cabin and sliding doors. The “crocodile” articulated electric locomotive was and still is neat. Especially attractive were the passenger trains in vintage brown, green, and later many colors of the rainbow as they would represent neighboring countries in Europe. Marklin would later create vintage models of the Prussian era and Nazi Germany in WWII. Few US prototype models were created.
While Marklin trains are precision engineered and run well, they are expensive. The Marklin local resale market is very soft and I am not aware of any dealers selling new Marklin in the state. Few people want to spend $45 or more for a passenger car or $30 for a freight car. Some years ago, my son brought home 6 Marklin HO passenger cars in an original circa 1962 box and I listed them on what I thought was a fair price, $19.95. I sold 5 of the 6 for $29.95 or less. The big surprise was the sale on the SNCF coach (French national railways car) for $176 with fierce bidding.
My experience is that few people buy Marklin at train shows unless they lived in Germany for a time. There are no publications that I am aware of that give Marklin train set resale values. Searching or setting up an eBay watch list for vintage Marklin trains is helpful.
About the author:
Dan Napoliello is a retired military nurse (30 years including Viet Nam) and retired Senior Healthcare Internal Auditor. He has been in the hobby since the 1950s and has been selling at train shows since he arrived in the valley in 1987. His expertise is in HO & N gauge trains and as a rail photographer, he has had a dozen photographs printed in national rail magazines. He and his wife Sally live in Peoria.