Fake and Reproduction Lantern Globes

Railroad lantern globes have been subject to counterfeiting, and as globe prices continue to escalate, new reports continue to surface.

The following information on known or suspected fakes and reproductions has been obtained from various sources judged to be knowledgeable and accurate. The information is presented with "honest intentions"; however we cannot guarantee complete accuracy, so please use this information as advisory only -- see Disclaimer . Categories include fake globes marked with decals, fake cast globes, fake etched globes and unmarked globes. A separate page deals with a controversial two-color globe, which may or may not be fake.

Fake Globes Marked with Decals

Barn lanterns (see page on this style) have shown up in internet auctions with globes marked with railroad logo decals. In pictures, the markings look like they are etched markings, but sources indicate that they are in fact decals. Such decals would be fairly easy to spot in person but more difficult in a computer image. The markings that have been reported are a Northern Pacific logo (one version has the famous Northern Pacific "monad" logo misaligned on its side!), a B&O logo ("all trains run via Washington") and a Santa Fe logo.

Very few lanterns of the 'barn lantern style' are known to have been used by steam railroads. The majority of railroad-related markings that show up on barn lanterns are traction, interurban, or streetcar lines. It is certainly possible that unknown but legitimate barn lanterns marked for steam railroads will surface in the future. However, since tubular barn lanterns are still being manufactured and since it is relatively easy to mark a globe with decals or even etched markings, collectors should be especially wary.

Fake Cast Globes

Cast globes are globes in which the initials or names of railroads are cast into the glass. Such globes are susceptible to fraud since glassmakers, including some of the original globe manufacturers, have the production resources to make new cast globes, and reportedly some of the original glass molds have survived. In general, custom globe production is expensive, and this, combined with the consequences of flooding the market with quantities of supposedly rare globes, would seem to make such an effort economically unfeasible. Nevertheless, there are a number of fake cast globes that have hit the market, including one that surfaced very recently.

By far the most common "style" of fake cast globe is well known and, fortunately, easy to identify. This is a tall (5 3/8") globe in which the railroad marking is contained within a four-sided "trapezoid" border whereby the top horizontal line is longer than the bottom. See the illustration for a general approximation. Such globes have an extended base and cast lettering. They have been produced in the following list of railroad names: AT&SF RY, CH&D RY, CNO&TP RY, D&M RY, FRISCO, IC RR, L&N RR, MONON ROUTE, SOUTHERN, T&P RR, VIRGINIAN RY, WABASH, and Pullman (list provided by Sue and Bill Knous and supplemented by Tom Stranko). Colors include blue, green, amber and clear. A collector emailed us with the following: "One feature of these fake globes is the glass, if you look at the globe from an angle, the glass [on clear globes] has a definite light blue tinge to it, and the glass itself is thicker than standard globes. The top and bottom sections have been well sanded, another clue."

HOWEVER....there does appear to be at least one globe marking with a trapezoid panel that does appear to be genuine.  The globe is clear cast with an extended base and marked I&GN RR (International & Great Northern Railroad).  See photo at left.  There is a trapezoid panel around the marking although the angle is less pronounced than what is seen in the known fakes. See the photo at right.  What makes it appear genuine is the high quality of the glass and a Macbeth Pearl Glass etching around the top of the globe -- a characteristic that is not known to exist in the fake globes. Our thanks to Ken Stavinoha for bringing this to our attention and supplying the photos.

Fake 6" barrel globes were produced in the Northeast a number of years ago and still turn up in the collectors' market. Some are clear and others are blue. With regard to the latter, Tom Stranko says, "There were 'B&A RR' and 'NY&NE RR' blue globes made (possibly other colors). The overall quality is very poor, and there is a marked unevenness about the letters. If a good globe and a fake are held and compared, the differences are obvious. These globes have the blue color applied as a 'case' (thin inside coat). You can tell a cased globe by looking for a small inside chip which will show the telltale clear glass beneath." The "B&A RR" globe is shown at upper right. A view of the NY&NE RR lettering at middle right shows the same uneven lettering.

Similar clear globes are also known to have been produced, including a "BNY&P RR" example which has recently surfaced (shown above). According to Doug McIntyre, "It is identical to the other fake clear 6" barrel globes we have seen -- the NYP&ORR and NY&NERR (shown above)-- and appears to have come from the same source. It is an obvious fake . . . side seams very thick, recessed panel protrudes inside, top and bottom lips had been sanded to make them look like they had seen time in a lantern, quality of glass very poor."

Update early 2017. New reproduction globes by W.T. Kirkman are being manufactured and sold. Many of these fit railroad lanterns. For example, there is a Dietz #6 lantern globe with cast New York Central markings in various colors. These are clearly sold as new reporductions with no intent to deceive; in fact the "W.T. Kirkman" marking is cast into the glass, indicating that it is a modern product. However, there is always the possibility that someone may think this is an historical glass manufacturer.

Buyer beware!

A fake "corning style" blue globe was produced some time ago, lettered "NYNH&H RR" (New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, A.K.A. New Haven Railroad). It has one of the same characteristics as the 6" barrell globes shown above in that the blue color was put on as a "case" or inner thin layer of colored glass. The style of lettering is also not like other New Haven Corning globes. The image shown at right has been lightened to show the uneven lettering, but the actual color is a darker blue.

In addition to tall globe reproductions, fake cast globes have been produced for Dietz Vesta lanterns. These are 4 1/2 inches tall with a round-end panel surrounding the cast letters and have a double lip. They are well-done, possibly having been produced from a surviving commercial mold. The source may be the same as the "tall" globes with the trapezoid panels discussed above. The photo at right shows a complete Wabash globe; the image at bottom right partially shows the lettering on a NYO&W Ry version. John Brainard has provided the following list:

  • NYO&W Ry: blue, amber, red
  • Wabash: blue
  • LI RR: blue
  • R CO: amber

John notes that the NYO&W Ry -- New York, Ontario & Western Railway -- did not have ANY vesta globes that were cast.

Reproduction blue cast globes marked "PRR" (Pennsylvania Railroad) are hitting the market, first reported at the June, 1999 Show in St. Charles, Illinois. The globe even has a reproduced glassmakers mark (MEG for MacBeth Evans Glass). While the original seller was marketing these as reproductions, the globes have no marking indicating their reproduction status. Therefore it is entirely possible (likely) that at least some will be represented in the future as the real thing. One diagnostic indication suggested by one lantern expert is that the glass is much thicker at the top than at the base. (Photos taken by Chris Marotte and sent by Tom Stranko; Posted 5/26/00)

Reproduction green cast globes marked "PRR" (Pennsylvania Railroad) have also been reported. These have the same characteristics described above, including the MEG marking. (Photos taken by Howard Holland; Posted 1/17/04)
Left. Closeup of the "PRR" lettering on the suspect blue globe described above.
Left. Closeup of the "PRR" lettering on the suspect green globe described above.

Beware of Painted Globes! A recent episode on an internet auction site showed that clear cast globes can be made to look like colored globes, thereby increasing their ostensible value many time over. It seems that a seller listed an amber cast globe in an Internet auction but discovered during the auction that the globe had been given a coating that readily came off with a solvent. The seller responsibly terminated the auction, but this experience exposed yet another counterfeiting method. The crafts and stained glass industries have developed various coatings that simulate colored glass, and this was apparently what was used here. This is yet another example of the risks of collecting via internet auctions.

Fake Short Cast Globes. At present we don't know of any fake cast globes that have been produced for short lanterns (3 1/4" tall).

Fake Etched Globes

Etched globes were usually marked by the use of acid applied over a stencil such that the railroad initials or names were etched into the surface of the glass. There is also reliable information that some markings on globes were actually accomplished with sandblasting rather than acid, although for purposes here we'll consider these under "etched globes". Since either process is theoretically easier to duplicate that casting molten glass, many collectors are particularly cautious about buying etched globes.

At present, we have definite information on one counterfeit etched globe: a blue, short (3.5 inch) globe with a large, very prominent Pennsylvania Railroad keystone logo etched into the surface. This globe reportedly was produced by blowing rather than casting so it has no vertical mold mark down the side.

In addition to this, the consensus among collectors is that there are definitely other counterfeit etched globes, maybe some that are "one of a kind", so "buyer beware" is the rule. Here are some points that have been suggested by various collectors to keep in mind:

  • For regular brakemans' lanterns, the authentic etched markings tended to use plain lettering rather than "fancy fonts". The idea here was simply to indicate the ownership of the lantern/globe rather than impress anybody. Beware of fancy lettering on regular tall or short globes for brakemans lanterns.
  • For presentation or conductors lanterns, the etched lettering was often quite ornate and usually done by skilled craftsmen. Beware of etched lettering that looks crude or amateurish. At a recent antique show in the Pacific Northwest, a conductors lantern showed up with a globe etched "V&T RR" for "Virginia & Truckee Railroad, a most collectible item if authentic. But the lettering looked like it had been done by an amateur, and collectors seemed to be ignoring this lantern -- for good reason.
  • Knowledge of the "style" of lettering that tended to be used by the particular railroad on a particular line of globes can be useful in judging authenticity. For example, one type of tall globe used by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was a mellon-shaped globe with large, one-inch high etched letters of a plain style. Departures from this style of lettering on a similarly shaped globe may be authentic but would be cause for extra scrutiny.

In addition, here is a comment by one experienced collector, Bill Kajdzik:

Faked "etched" globes have always been an issue with collectors. Even the term "etched" is a little misleading since the railroads and lantern manufacturers pretty much abandoned acid etching in the early 1900's in favor of sandblasting. Genuine sandblasted globes are usually not a work of art, that is, the resultant "etching" is not applied consistently, not very "deep" and not in ornate lettering. An etched Kopp globe would be pretty rare and an etched globe like the globes being sold by Adlake today would most certainly be suspect. I know for a fact that Handlan was still sandblasting globes for the railroads into the 1970's. These included the 3 1/4 globes as well as their 4 1/2 sizes. Some looked better than others but none were very deeply etched and all were done with very plain letters. The best defense is knowledge. Genuine globes should all have similar letter styles for a given railroad. Railroad shows, other peoples collections, the pictures on eBay, and the info on the hobby web sites should give collectors a pretty good selection to learn from. Certainly etched globes are one of the easiest things to fake if someone set their mind to it. So just make sure you really want it, it compares pretty well to others you have seen, and are willing to pay the price for something that later may turn out to be suspect.

There is probably a lot more to learn about counterfeit etched globes that are out there, and perhaps some better methods can be developed for distinguishing the originals from the fakes.

Unmarked Globes

Strictly speaking, the question of fraud does not apply to unmarked globes unless the issue concerns age. Unmarked short globes and conductors' lantern globes are still being produced, and collectors cannot assume that even tall unmarked globes are old. At least one documented instance of a production of colored tall globes was reported in "Key, Lock & Lantern" in the early 1980's. Using an original globe mold, someone sponsored production runs of approximately 130-200 tall globes in the following colors: dark green, blue, "honey yellow" and orange yellow. In addition, a dozen clear and red tall globes were made. The person who did this claimed that he produced them "for the hobby" without intention of deceiving collectors. There may be other instances of the recent production of unmarked tall globes as well, so collectors should enjoy these for what they are and not assume they necessarily saw actual railroad use.

In addition to tall globes, there are reports of a recently-made green-over-clear globe that fits a presentation or conductors lantern. The recent version differs from the authentic older version in that it was dipped to obtain the two-color appearance; the older ones were actually two pieces of glass joined together and have a ridge where the two colors meet.

Thanks to Ken Stavinoha, Chris Marotte, Tom Stranko, Doug McIntyre, Howard Holland, Joe Farrell and members of the rrdiana.nshore list.