Collectibles: The world of Railwayana

Train and railway tickets were meant to be ephemeral in nature, meaning their life expectancy was short, and that is why tickets of all kinds are classfied as part of an overall collecting area called ‘Ephemera.’

Ephemera describes hundreds of different items typically intended to be used very shortly after being purchased, and once used those items would be discarded. Whether they were used or not, few paper items aged 100 years or more have survived the decades intact, many having been damaged by exposure to dampness and light. So whatever very early train and other travel tickets remain in as-new condition today are usually rare and worth a good price on eBay.

As well as being classed as ephemera, train and other railway tickets fall within a main collecting area called “Railwayana.”

Recently, two tickets issued by New Zealand Railways in the early 1880′s made £216.20 – not bad when you consider you really can buy tickets and tokens for a few pennies or a couple of pounds each from dealers having little specialist knowledge at car boot sales and flea markets.

On eBay, railwayana has its own individual product-listing category, testifying to its popularity as a high demand and potentially high priced collecting area. Tickets are listed under:

Collectables > Transportation > Railwayana > Tickets > then sub-divided into:

British Rail (1948 – 1997) Europe
Minor Standard Gauge
Narrow & Miniature Gauge
North America
South America
Not Specified
Other Tickets

Some tickets not intended for travelling purposes and, having no obvious sub-category on eBay, such as to authorise transportation of coffins and animals, or allowing access to station platforms, are best listed under “Other Tickets”.

Here is a selection of recent high prices for train and other railway tickets on

» Over 250 Train Tickets 1950 to 1969 N.E.R., G.W.R. L.N.E.R. – £273.88 (Most railway com- panies are described using acronyms).

» New Zealand Railways N.Z.R. Railways Tickets 1883/4 – £216.20

» Over 220 Train Tickets 1952 to 1969 N.E.R., G.W.R., L.N.E.R – £182.00

» Job Lot Approx 600 Vintage Railway Tickets British – £146.44

» Railway Ticket (BTC(H): Dunragit to Castle Kennedy – £110.00

» Railway Ticket Cyprus GUMT Railway Famagusta to Trakh – £104.00

» Cyprus Government Railway Ticket Famagusta – Pyrga 1936 – £81.00

» Railway Ticket Rhodesia Rlwys Ltd Beira to Pt Do Pungu – £77.00

» Railway Ticket: Somerset and Dorset: Wellow 1961 (?) – £73.99

» Sligo Leitrim and Northern Counties Railway Co. – £65.65

» L.N.E.R. Lowestoft Platform Ticket – £59.00

» Railway Ticket: RE(H) Strathyre to Callender 1952 – £58.00

Buying and selling tips

We’re looking now at buying and selling tickets purchased not just for travelling from A to B, but also for gaining access to railway station platforms or allowing anglers to fish from piers belonging to some railway companies.

Also it was once common for non-travellers to rent boxes at mainline train stations to store their valuables sometimes over the long term. A ticket would be gained to either claim their property later and sometimes there would be a key to gain access to a storage box at the station. Both ticket and key have resale value on eBay.

“Stubs” are that part of a ticket returned to the passenger after being torn during a ticket inspection on board the train or when leaving the station. They tend to be more common than tickets that have been used and still remain in good condition and intact, and stubs are much more common than unused tickets that have survived the decades in mint condition.

Unless there is something very unusual about it, a stub ticket is unlikely to sell for more than a few pennies on eBay. That “something unusual”, for the record, might include unusual locations, such as tickets issued in China or Cyprus, or relating to very small stations where passenger numbers were few. Many stubs for heavy pedestrian main town and city stations are worthless.

Place names are vitally important to most ticket collectors, not just for tickets to travel on trains, but also to access platform and lost property departments, and so on. As an example, a platform ticket for the L.N.E.R station at Lowestoft sold recently for £59. That and similar high prices show place names are collectable in their own right, by people interested in “topographical” keepsakes, and not always interested in tickets and other collectibles per se. Which means, of course, a ticket likely to appeal to several types of collector (e.g. according to place name, railway company, date, etc.) can attract numerous bidders and fetch unexpectedly high prices on eBay.

• More unusual collecting types with a good and high-paying following on eBay include:

i. Platform tickets from the 1930s to 1950 frequently fetch between £40 and £50, some- times more.

ii. Usually listed alongside tickets on eBay are metal tokens or passes issued to men and women working on specific railway lines. These items can fetch incredibly high prices, such as:

» Dinorwic Quarry Workmen’s Train Pass (Padam Railway) – £255.00

» Dinorwic Quarry Workmen’s Train Pass (Padam Railway) – £237.17

Those listings with identical titles varied in design, one being round, the other oblong with rounded corners.

Some collectors focus on specific routes or particular companies; others collect misprinted tickets. It’s very important for sellers, especially new sellers, to learn all about the various col-lecting options, as well as terminology used by dealers and collectors of railwayana. A good place to start learning is:

Oddities include tickets for conveying coffins by rail or for transporting workers during the hop-picking season, as well as allowing access to lifts at railway stations. Season tickets are also likely to fetch a premium over more common tickets on eBay.

If you find anything unusual like those examples, do not list them on eBay without researching their rarity and potential value beforehand. Try esti- mating value by contacting experts via the three railwayana sites listed above. If you’re still unsure about a starting price for your auction, ask experts at those sites what they would expect the item to fetch. Then add 10% or 20% to the average price estimated by experts and list your items Buy It Now with Best Offer in your eBay Shop. Accept offers equal to or above those suggested by experts.

Age is not always the main factor determining value as some recent sales prove, where tickets issued in the 1950s and 60s have fetched up to £70 each on eBay. In general, however, the older the item, especially delicate paper items, the less likely it will have survived the years unscathed and the more valuable an item in good condition is likely to be. As always, research potential values of very old and relatively recent tickets before listing them for sale.

Most popular collecting areas right now include China and Hong Kong, Cyprus, Ireland and New Zealand. Typically, those areas also fetch high prices for most other types of ephemera, notably postcards and photographs, and it’s not uncommon to find one such item fetching £200 or £300 on eBay.

Tip: At boot sales and flea markets you’ll find inexperienced sellers offering most paper items at a fixed low fee, such as 10p each or any 10 items for £5. But you’re only likely to buy postcards and photographs, tickets and other paper items for pennies and sell them for £100 or more on eBay by fol- lowing one very important rule: arrive at the event as soon as the doors open to traders. Most trading for low price items with potential high resale value is done in the early hours of dawn, by traders with stalls on the day, and visiting dealers to the venue. Get in early by booking a stall and using it as a base to sell and buy from dealers and the public throughout the day. Alternatively, gain access by arriving early and saying “Trade” to the organisers who will usually let you in without having to pay.

Prior to nationalisation of the railways in 1948, most rail travel was with individual companies, and it’s these individual companies that tend to attract most railway ticket collectors today. So a collector might opt for tickets issued by one company, or one or two companies in a specific geographical location, such as all tickets printed L.N.E.R. – London and North Eastern Railway, or G.W.R. – Great Western Railway.

Some collectors prefer tickets issued by individual stations or for specific events including hop picking, carrying coffins, transporting railway workers, and so on. Some people collect by date, such as all tickets from pre-1900, and others col- lect specific ticket prices, such as only priced £1 or more.

Before nationalisation rail travel was overly expensive for all but the middle and higher classes, and so fewer tickets were issued then than in modern day times, and sometimes those older items fetch really high prices from collectors today. Nationalisation made rail travel cheaper and acces- sible to most people and that makes most post-1948 tickets quite common and not usually of high value. The exception is for smaller railway stations in rural areas where passengers were few and whatever older tickets remain in existence today are very rare compared to tickets issued in major town and city railway stations.

Big bundles, sometimes lifetime collections, of railway tickets are frequently offered on eBay and in offline auction salerooms. They’re offered because they previously belonged to someone who has died or given up collecting, and the current owner knows nothing about their value and cannot be bothered to find out how much potentially thousands of tickets in one auction lot might be worth. So thousands of tickets will very often sell for less than £100 with potential to sell for a great deal more.

Last, but definitely not least as far as this hugely popular collecting area is concerned, once you’re into selling railway tickets and finding them easy and inexpensive to source locally, try branching out into other ticket types, such as for shows at the theatre and opera, ballet and music hall, and so on.

This article first appeared on Auction Genie. Read more and comment here