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Fake Builders' Plates: Norfolk & Western
In the age of steam, the Norfolk & Western Railway was renowned from the distinctive, innovative steam locomotives that were built at the company's own shops in Roanoke, Virginia. Today, only a few of these locomotives survive, and the builders' plates from those that were scrapped have become a focus of hot competition among collectors.
Such popularity, of course, invites reproductions. There is nothing inherently wrong with reproductions that are permanently marked or at least identifiable as such. For example, quite a few builders' plates have been copied with the use of resin casting techniques (see page), and these are not likely to fool someone with even a little knowledge of the subject. However, more problematic are reproductions that duplicate the look and feel of the original to a fine degree. While someone producing reproductions may do so with innocent intent and full disclosure, the bigger problem occurs in secondary markets such as internet auctions, antique shows, and garage sales. Here unknowing sellers may claim that such plates couldn't possibly be fakes because they look and feel so authentic. Also, new collectors may lack the knowledge to detect subtle details that distinguish the real thing from the copy.
There is one series of reproduction N&W plates that is particularly worth noting because they could potentially be quite convincing to a novice. These were reportedly made decades ago, more or less as a hobbyist project, but it seems that some have shown up in the collectors' market recently. Once source says that the plates were not done to deceive people, and that some were stamped with "REPRO" on the back sides. Also, they were made with significant differences from original N&W Plates, including the use of yellow brass with less-than-optimal quality on the finish, i.e., sharp corners and edges and no "blocks" around the dates and serial numbers [See examples below]. No attempt was made to age them, although, of course, artificial aging techniques could be applied by a secondary seller. It seems that only a small number of sets were produced, but specific production numbers are currently unknown.
Following are known plates in this series:
The twelve plates shown in the first row of photos, far left, have been donated to the O. Winston Link Museum in Roanoke, Virginia. Link documented N&W steam in the 1950's using innovative night photography techniques and is fondly associated with the railroad. This donation removes some of the plates from circulation, but as mentioned above it is unknown how many are still out there.
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