Brass Models are scale models, typically of railroad equipment, bridges and occasionally buildings, which are made of brass or similar alloys. Brass models traditionally offer finer detail than traditional die-cast or plastic models, although both made considerable advances in the late 1990s, and continue to improve. Brass models are considered by many to be collector pieces and are often used for display purposes, due to their museum quality, rather than model railroad operations. However, they are indeed fully operational and many serious model railroaders do choose to use them on their model railroads. They are generally considerably more expensive than other types of models due to the limited production quantities and "handmade" nature of the product itself.
How did brass model trains get there start? Once upon a time, in the late 1950s, Japan was known to produce cheap toys, and inferior products for export. During the occupation of parts of Japan by American GI's, and in conjunction with the Japanese desire to show the world that they were indeed fine craftsman capable of putting out some of the finer products available in the world, the first brass model train imports were born. GI's would see some of the amazing models being built by various craftsman and would bring in photos of various American Prototype steam locomotives, to let these artisans try their hand to see what could be produced. What was produced were indeed some early 'hand built' brass models of fabulous quality, built with relatively crude equipment in comparison with what would become later available. Certain discerning people in the model railroad industry took note of what was being done, and starting importing these models to the USA. At first quantities were small, but eventually they grew in number. Bill Ryan of PFM (Pacific Fast Mail) was one of the early importers, and to this day the name PFM is synonymous with brass model trains.
The quality of the Japanese models continued to improve, but eventually so did their economy. Eventually the importers moved their operations to Korea for lower priced imports. The quality suffered considerably in the early years of this transition. Eventually some very fine brass models would be built in Korea, and to this day they are continuing to be produced there. Arguably the finest producer of brass models today is Boo-Rim Precision, from Korea.
Many thousands of brass model trains have been produced throughout the years. At first their price was comparable to die-cast models, but the detail was far superior. Through the decades the quality and detail levels of brass models have increased vastly, but so has the price. Today (2014) an articulated HO scale, highly detailed model may retail for as much as $3000.00 USD. Larger scales can run at prices even higher. However the collect-ability of late run highly detailed models generally keeps the prices high as the quantities available are very low. Historically the most desirable models have continued to rise in value. Mid-Run (1960-1985) models, in particular unpainted model, have appeared to drop in value lately as they are becoming less desirable in comparison with newer models with much better detail. These models still often sell for several times the original suggested retail costs. For further information please refer to
- The Brass Train Guide Book (http://www.brasstrains.com/Classic/Product/Detail/030010/The-Brass-Train-Guide-Book-Deluxe-Edition)
- Brass Model Trains Price & Data Guide Volume 2 (http://www.brasstrains.com/Classic/Product/Detail/030003/Brass-Model-Trains-Price-Data-Guide-Volume-2)
- Online Brass Guide LIVE (www.brassguide.com)
Glossary of Brass Model Train Terminology:
- HandBuilt - Generally these refer to the early models made for the GI's that were built entirely by hand. In many ways brass models are still handbuilt to this day.
- Crown - At first these were very limited runs of the highest quality models imported by PFM. Later the term was used a bit more loosely, though generally only for very high quality models. Other importers used phrases such as 'Ruby' (Gem Models) 'Royale Series' (Custom Brass) or something similar.
- Factory Painted - A model painted by the builder. Some models were painted in the USA after being imported. Though these paint jobs were commissioned by the importer and are normally high quality, they would be considered custom paint.
- Custom Paint - This has a broad meaning as the quality can vary widely, however its any model that is painted, and not by the builder.
- Pro Paint - This term should only be used by professional painters. The quality of a true professional should be very close to that of a factory painted model.
- Plated - A term for nickel plating, often brass drivers (wheels) are plated nickel silver. At times entire models are nickel plated (they look like silver.)
- Wheel Wear - This refers to brass showing through on the drivers (wheels). This happens when the engine has been run enough on a track to wear through the nickel plating, and often is a sign of somewhat heavy use of the model.
- Drawbar - The bar that connects a steam locomotive to the tender. Often needed for a good electrical connection.
- Open Frame Motor - Used on earlier models, generally up until the early 1970s. You can see the armature, brushes on the sides of the motor.
- Can Motor - A more desirable motor as it generally offers more power, and less needed maintenance. The motor is enclosed in a 'can', and the brushes cannot be seen.
Here are some manufacturers of brass models:
Manufacturers, many more exist than those shown below
Here are some Active Importers, both in the USA and Europe:
- Precision Scale Models, Inc
- Glacier Park Models
- The Coach Yard
- Union Terminal Imports
- North Bank Line
- Micro Metakit
- Overland Models Inc.
- Key Model Imports
- Sunset Models, 3rd Rail
Here are some Importers that are no longer active:
- W&R Enterprises
- Weinert[disambiguation needed]
- Classic Construction Models
- Max Gray
- Pacific Fast Mail
- WestSide Model Company, WMC
- Ferro Swiss
- NJ International, Custom Brass
- Von Stetina Artworks
Here are some well known Brass Model Train Dealers:
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