Brass Part I: The Basics

by Bruce Bloch

So ... Youíve been bitten by the brass bug and have decided that you can no longer live with the xyz locomotive. Youíve heard the Call of the Brass. Welcome the BRASS DISEASE! In this series of articles, we will learn about buying brass imports. This issue discusses some basic concepts of buying a brass model. Some of the topics in future issues include:

bulletThe history of brass imports
bulletCurrent developments in brass imports
bulletJapanese models
bulletKorean models

Quality, Accuracy, and Value

When youíre thinking about buying a particular model, you must understand that the model may have manufacturing flaws or even be incorrect relative to the prototype. Brass imports are not only models, but are also investments that, if incorrect or materially flawed, may not increase in value. They may even decrease! Before paying hard-earned cash for that locomotive, you should examine it for both operation and accuracy. Be concerned if there are problems such as misplaced number boards, an oversized or undersized boiler, or an incorrect paint job. At one time or another, almost every brass importer and builder has released a model with these and other equally serious flaws.

Although the importer does not build the model, the importer is responsible for ensuring the model is correct. Almost every importer has messed up at least once. For example, there was an advertisement several years ago for a factory-painted model with a paint scheme that never existed in the prototype!

Generally, brass models have been improving in both operation and detail; but, alas, they have also become much more expensive. Suppose youíre buying a brass GS4. You have to decide what you want:

bulletAn unpainted Sunset Model for $200
bulletA PFM or Westside factory-painted model for $300 to $500
bulletA Key Imports factory-painted model for $700 to $800

Also, the current Korean models have far more detail and operate many times better than even the best Japanese models of the late 1970ís and early 1980ís, but they cost much more.

Importers and Manufacturers

Some importers seem to use particular builders, but not always. For example, since the early 1980ís, Overland Models has used the Korean builder Ajin almost exclusively. Samhongsa, on the other hand, has build models for a variety of importers including PFM and Westside in the middle 1970ís and Key Imports, W & R, Oriental Limited, and others since the late 1970ís. Precision Scale has been importing brass models since the late 1970ís from a variety of builders, some of which are no longer in business.

In almost every case, the builders and importers have gone through a learning curve in which their products have improved over time. Todayís Samhongsa 4-8-4 steam locomotive is much better than a similar Samhongsa 4-8-4 from the late 1970ís. Of course, it costs three times as much. As a buyer, you have to make your own decision. In this article weíve looked at some important considerations in buying a brass model:

bulletFlaws and inaccuracies in the model
bulletHow well the model operates
bulletThe manufacturer, the importer, and how long they have worked together
bulletThe age of the model
bulletHow much you are willing to spend