Märklin Filing Bankruptcy After 150 Years Of Making Models & Toys
Many North Americans probably don't know the name of the German firm Märklin, but they are known the world over for producing fine quality model trains. Many hobby shop shelves in the U.S. are filled with cheap mass-market junk, so it may be hard to find (or justify) the expensive models that Märklin offers. Märklin has made a name for themselves by making high quality trains and other toys for more than 150 years, so their declaration of bankruptcy on February 4th came as a bit of a shock.
There are few things I actively collect (from what we've seen on Retro Thing, I'm sure that's hard for you to believe), but I've been a longtime aficionado of Märklin's Z-scale - the smallest commercially available model railroad gauge. At 1:220 scale, it's an amazing achievement especially considering that the line was rolled out in 1972. Sophisticated miniaturization may not be the big deal today that it once was, but it's still breathtaking to see a working model steam locomotive that fits inside a walnut.
Märklin has a long history of HO models (they are often credited with inventing the scale) as well as trains in other gauges.The company had been owned by three families throughout most of its history offering tinplate & wood toys in their early years, and in recent decades expanded their lines with child-oriented HO toy trains, racing sets, a Meccano-type line (unfortunately translated as an "erection set"), but the root of their generations of success lay in model trains.
The family-owned company was able to navigate numerous fickle toy fads through their long history, surviving two world wars, a divided home country, and all the other vagaries of the toy & hobby industry for a century and a half. Since selling out to a UK holding company in 2006, they bought out other model railroad brands like Trix and LGB, and just two years later are facing a € 50 million debt that they can't pay. Hmm. Which was the better business model?
Officials from Märklin hope that we're not seeing the taillights of their caboose just yet.They intend to continue their craft and tradition of making model trains, while the business side of continuing to make model trains gets sorted out. I imagine that journalists will be unable to avoid the "little engine that could" metaphors, but with Märklin owning several other firms, they are hardly a "little engine" these days. I'm confident that my beloved Z scale will not disappear entirely and will be around for years to come, I just hope that it's not somehow reduced to cheap mass-market junk.