TCA Grading Standards
The toy train pricing guides published today generally adhere to grading standards established by the Train Collector's Association (TCA). Those standards are:
C-10 MINT - Brand New all original, unused and unblemished.
C-9 FACTORY NEW - Brand New all original, unused, may evidence factory rubs and the slightest evidence of handling, shipping and having been test run at the factory.
C-8 LIKE NEW - Complete all original, no rust, no missing parts, may show effects of being on display and/or age, may have been run.
C-7 EXCELLENT - all original minute scratches and paint nicks, no rust and no missing parts. No distortion of component parts.
C-6 VERY GOOD - Minor scratches and paint nicks, minor spots of surface rust, free of dents. May have minor parts replaced.
C-5 GOOD - Sign of play wear with scratches and minor paint loss. Small dents, minor surface rust. Evidence of heavy use.
C-4 FAIR - Scratched, moderate paint loss, dented missing parts, surface rust. Evidence of heavy use.
C-3 POOR - Requires major body repair. Heavily scratched, major rust and missing parts. Restoration candidate.
C-2 - Restoration required.
C-1 - Junk, parts value only.
These Condition and Grading Standards apply to ALL toy train and related accessory items. The items that are being evaluated may or may not include the original box. Boxes and other paper are subject to a separate set of grading and condition standards. Standards for all toy train related accessory items apply to the visual appearance of the item and do not consider the operating functionality of the equipment.
The Standards have been expanded with the introduction of a separate designation for restored/refinished items. Restored/refinished items must continue to be marked as such using the pressure sensitive labels available from the TCA. The Association provides these labels through members of the Standards Committee or the National Business Office.
Grades for grading paper (such as Catalogs, Instruction Sheets) and Boxes:
P-10 Individual pages/box flaps appear to have been never opened. All edges are crisp and the item is free of all flaws. Original folds are crisp with no signs of damage. No rusty staples, creases, tears, fading, and/or
wear marks are present. The item is totally and absolutely "unflawed"!
Note: Items that have printing that is offset, smeared, double images, odd cut pages, and/or etc. are considered errors and shall be noted as such.
Paper: Item may have been touched by human hands since leaving original factory.
Boxes: Original contents are contained within, and if applicable, sealed box. All applicable sealing tape, plastic wrap, and/or staples are present and undisturbed.
P-9 same as P-10 with the following exceptions or additions. Item may have store or dealer stamp appropriately applied.
Paper: Item has been touched by human hands since leaving original factory. Individual pages have been opened. Original paper folds are crisp with no signs of damage if folded by the factory; i.e. still unfolded.
Boxes: Box may have a hand-written or affixed price tag indicating the "original price" of the box's contents.
P-8 same as P-9 with the following exception or additions:
Paper: Notations from an auction, dealer, club member on the cover or interior page may be present.
Boxes: Original contents of box may be missing; i.e. box has been opened. The "This Side Up" part of the box has the original sealing tape carefully and neatly cut and/or staples may have been carefully removed to expose the contents. Box is complete with all inner liners and/or flaps.
P-7 same as P-8 with the following exceptions and/or additions. Item shows signs of moderate usage and is 100% intact. Original paper folds show minute signs of damage. Item may have rusty staples which have not affected the paper.
Paper: There may be some evidence of bending and folding or unfolding if original factory folded. All pages must be present.
Boxes: Box shows moderate signs of being opened and closed.
P-6 same as P-7 with the following exceptions or additions. Item shows signs of usage and is 100% intact. Edges are minutely damaged. Original paper folds show signs of damage. All printing material is legible, however, the item may have some wear marks such as weathering, slight fading, unoriginal pencil or ink marks, and/or a foreign substance on the item such as rust, grease, oil, and/or etc. which minutely extends onto the printed material or is confined to the unprinted areas of the item.
Paper: Page(s) may show additional (unoriginal) fold(s) or "dog-eared" page(s). Page(s) may have tears. Such tears greated than two inches may be closed with archival tape.
Boxes: All liners and/or flaps are present and intact, however, inner flaps may require some strengthening with the use of archival tape. The box can still safely store its original contents.
NOTE: Any paper or box item repaired with a non-archival Scotch® or equivalent tape can be graded no higher than P-5.
P-5 same as P-6 with the following exceptions and/or additions. Item shows high signs of usage. Edges may be damaged. Original folds are heavily damaged. All existing printed material is legible; however, the item is heavily worn with severe wear marks extending well onto the original printed material and may have extensive color fading. No water damage or signs of paper/cardboard deterioration is evident.
Paper: Page(s) may be missing or loose and shall be so noted. The item may still be useable as reference material.
Boxes: All exterior flaps are present; however, they may require some mending or reattaching with transparent tape. Box liners and/or inner flaps may be completely and/or partially missing; however, inner flaps may be reattached with transparent tape. Exercising caution, the box can still store its original contents.
P4 same as P-5 with the following exceptions and/or additions. Some or all of the existing printed material is illegible.
Paper: Item is so heavily damaged that it has little to no use as reference material.
Boxes: One or both of the exterior flaps are missing. Box will no longer safely store its original contents.
Condition and Grading Standards are subjective, at best, and are intended to act as a guide. It is important and logical that wishful thinking not be allowed to influence the choice of grade.
These are rigid standards, which are monitored and enforced by the TCA on its members in their dealings.
Be aware that merchants who are not TCA members are not bound by these or any other standards, and all too frequently an unwary novice is sold, for example, a 'Mint' item that may in reality be in 'Like New' or even poorer condition. This is another area where membership in TCA has it's advantages. It's admittedly sometimes difficult to be objective in grading a treasured train item that is in your possession. Nevertheless, a seller's credibility is on the line in such transactions, and every collector is well advised to err on the side of conservatism and to disregard sentimentality in grading each piece.
Warning: Many reproductions and repaints have been created of the more desirable toy train locomotives and cars. Many are not clearly identified as such. The TCA requires all members who are offering for sale, items that have been repainted or restored, to be labeled with a sticker identifying them as being restored. With demand increasing for antique toy trains by collectors, there are unscrupulous persons who will go to any length to create and sell fakes of valuable items. The Train Collectors Association has published a guide to identifying reproductions and fakes. This guide can be a useful tool to collectors who are suspicious of items they are considering for purchase.
The TCA has a Standards Committee made up of members who are long time collectors and are very knowledgeable on this subject of grading. The Standards Committee has created detailed presentations, with examples of each grade classification, using photographs of trains in each condition.