Price guides serve an important purpose in the toy train hobby. Of course, there are times when you can throw the price guides out the window. Sometimes, often at live or Internet auctions, two or more buyers will see something they want so badly that they will offer amounts far beyond what reference books state that train or accessory is worth.
Colors of the no. 3459 dump car
That kind of situation caught my attention when it applied recently to a popular Lionel operating car from the early postwar period. Take a look at the no. 3459 automatic dumping ore car, cataloged from 1946 through 1948.
The most common version of this model came with a black-painted frame and black metal tray with “Lionel Lines” heat-stamped on both sides in white. Lionel offered this variation for all three years it cataloged the 3459 and before replacing it with the no. 3469.
The regular-production variation of the 3459 dump car assumed to be the least common and thus the most valuable had a silver metal tray with blue heat-stamped lettering on it. Over the past 25 years, collectors have identified three more colors of the tray on the 3459.
Two of these color variations are considered rare; meaning, anywhere from one to five legitimate examples of each may be all that exist. Yellow-painted dump cars exist, and one was shown on the front cover of the December 1948 issue of Science Illustrated. A red-painted engineering sample has been reported.
The final color variation recognized as legitimate is dark green. One boxed example of the green dump car – generally estimated to be worth between $30 and $100, depending on condition and packaging – sparked a bidding war that ended with it selling for $410!
There’s nothing unusual about the green car. Like the silver- or black-painted cars, it has the solenoid and plunger (activated by sliding shoes on the trucks) Lionel perfected in the late prewar years to generate reliable movement.
After offering silver and black cars in 1946, Lionel made only black ones the next year. These were available in two cataloged sets and as a separate-sale item for $7. For 1948, the model came in five outfits, and the price for a 3459 sold by itself (including a Bakelite bin and a no. 207 bag of coal) rose 75 cents.
What about the green version? Nothing in the consumer catalogs indicated Lionel had dump cars painted dark green. Every illustration depicted the black car; none of the descriptions suggested the 3459 came in green.
Open the third volume of Greenberg’s Guide to Lionel Trains, 1945-1969. Author Paul Ambrose observes in his comments on the no. 2137WS O gauge steam freight outfit that the 3459 packaged with this set “was usually the moderately scarce green variation.” Presumably, he reached this conclusion after studying original sets that included a dark green dump car.
Perhaps readers have evidence to substantiate Ambrose’s view. In the meantime, they can chase after this overlooked and mysterious car that, based on a recent auction, may be tougher to find and scarcer than thought.
Lionel cataloged the no. 3459 automatic coal dumping car from 1946 to 1948. The green-painted version is associated with 1948.
Dented or bent aluminum tray?
Scratched or faded lettering?
Damaged or non-operating dumping mechanism?
Missing or smashed brake stands?
Original Bakelite bin and coal?