For the Love of Lionel: Inside the Collection of Richard P. Kughn

A Lionel Railroading layout displayed at the home of Richard P. Kughn.

After a lifetime of collecting, car enthusiast, train collector, and former CEO of Lionel Trains, Inc., Richard P. Kughn is downsizing.

In a series of six auctions comprising thousands of Lionel trains and related memorabilia, the personal collection of the former owner, chairman, and CEO of Lionel Trains will be sold through Pace & Hong Auctions. Each of the sales will offer a diverse array of Lionel-related objects and artifacts, from the trains themselves to original artwork by Angela Trotta Thomas, billed as the premier artist for Lionel Trains, Inc.

Bill Pace, co-founder of the Alpena, Michigan auction house, says that the sales will include “one-of-a-kind pieces, prototypes, even the original plaque right off the Lionel building when they celebrated the 50th anniversary of the company’s founding. There are some really rare pieces that will become available.” Pace says that to-date, over 6,000 individual objects have been photographed by his team, and that the upcoming sales will feature a number of trains still packaged in their original boxes with tape that has never been unsealed. He notes that for Lionel collectors, “that’s like finding gold.” And gold they may be, as recent prices at auction have brought anywhere from $5,000–$6,000 for a single Lionel Standard Gauge train.

Who Collects Lionel Trains? 

While these coveted collector’s items began as a childhood amusement, Pace notes that the contemporary toy market is rife with growing competition for a child’s attention, from video games to the latest advances in technology. “Watching a train go around a track is a totally different experience… you don’t get ten-year-old boys clamoring for a Lionel train [today].” He says that those who collect Lionel trains today are mostly nostalgists who owned a train as a child, those who have an interest in transportation and railroading, or those who simply appreciate model trains for their level of intricacy and detail. “You do get people who are simply fans of these beautiful trains. If you look at the engineering that went into them and the colors they used, they appeal to people who appreciate that type of workmanship.”

Others, he says, may not have an interest in trains at all. Pace notes that over the years, the Lionel corporation partnered with a number of brands from a variety of industries. “Everyone from Quaker Oats to motor oil [companies] partnered with Lionel Trains to promote their brand. We have people who have purchased trains because of the branding and the specific nature of the train who might not necessarily be train collectors themselves.”

Lower East Side Provenance

In a market where provenance drives value, there is one name in particular that Lionel collectors seek out: Madison Hardware. Inside this tiny Manhattan storefront, founded in 1914 by Abraham Shur (who also shared a love of trains), was a shop stacked from floor to ceiling with Lionel trains, including some models dating to the 1930s that had never been taken out of their box. “[Kughn] bought the entire store and moved it here to Michigan; literally packed up the entire Madison Hardware inventory in 16 semi-trailers – and moved it all to Detroit.”

Pace says that in today’s market, any item with provenance associated with Madison Hardware is considered a true collector’s item. “Train collectors know the history of Madison Hardware and how it operated, and how Dick moved it. That is certainly very popular.” A considerable portion of the Kughn collection heading to the auction block this fall will feature historic Madison Hardware provenance.

Kughn Collection Highlights

In addition to coveted finds from the original Madison Hardware store, Pace notes that other rare Lionel-related items will be featured throughout the suite of sales. Below is a taste of some of the unique highlights from the Kughn collection that are headed to auction.

First Editions by Angela Trotta Thomas

Angela Trotta Thomas, “Planning Ahead,” 1996. Edition 1/750. (Pace & Hong, September 2017).

Billed as the premier artist for Lionel Trains, Inc., artist Angela Trotta Thomas has been has been capturing the essence of a Lionel train for over thirty years. “I am most interested in the emotional attachment that the child has for their treasures and the traditions that they have forged,” Thomas says. “I strive to capture a dreamlike state with my paint application so viewing the paintings can take the viewer to another time and place.” Pace notes that a number of “edition ones” from limited edition series by Angela Trotta Thomas will feature prominently in the Kughn collection.

Power Masters

In an effort to diversify its product line, Lionel’s inaugural series of live-action figurines were first issued in November 1988, just months after a slump in the market for action-toys. Despite market decline, the Lionel Corporation moved forward with the release of PowerMasters, launching with four male figures and two robots, priced at $7 to $15 each. Although the line of toys were ultimately pulled from shelves, Pace notes that their scarcity and rare-to-market status is likely to interest Lionel and toy collectors alike today.

Employee Cars and Anniversary Issues

A selection of rare cars, including employee issues and anniversary These rare cars were issued solely for internal distribution to Lionel Trains, Inc. employees at the holidays, and were never made available to the public. As former CEO of Lionel, Kughn’s collection includes a number of these coveted, limited-release cars.

Anniversary Issues

A selection of rare cars, including employee cars and commemorative anniversary issues also feature prominently in the Kughn collection. Employee cars were issued solely for internal distribution to Lionel Trains, Inc. employees at the holidays, and were never made available to the public. As former CEO of Lionel, Kughn’s collection includes a number of these coveted, limited-release cars. Similarly, Pace adds that, “Across the board, anniversary issues of trains are very popular.”

The Future of the Market for Lionel Trains

The passion and expertise demonstrated by Lionel’s former CEO are second to none when it comes to transportation and railroading, and Pace suggests this collection could have a significant impact on the future market for Lionel trains. “The people who walk away with these items are getting something from the personal collection of the man who basically saved Lionel,” he says. “These pieces are going to certainly increase in value over the years based on two things: one, their scarcity, and two, knowing these came from the collection of Dick Kughn.” Pace adds, “As Dick said, ‘I’ve had such great enjoyment out of these over the years, now it’s time for someone else to enjoy them.’”

Click here to explore the Richard P. Kughn Collection at Pace & Hong Auctions this fall.