Questions & Answers
Buying & Selling
Fake Railroad Paper
Railroad paper has become a hot collectible in recent years, with some timetables and brochures going for many hundreds of dollars. Some rare passes have gone for even more. So in a familiar pattern, this type of collectible has now become more susceptible to deception and counterfeiting.
One of the inherent problems with railroad paper is that it is easy to reproduce, and many historical associations have done so with the best of intentions. Such reproductions can convey valuable information to collectors and historians who might not otherwise have access to the originals. Fortunately many of these reproductions have been marked as such, although there is always the possibility that these markings can be removed or camouflaged. Following is information on known reproductions of railroad paper. Bear in mind that this is not anywhere near an exhaustive list. We especially thank Bill and Sue Knous who generously gave permission to reproduce images and text from their book on counterfeit railroad collectibles.
The pass at right -- Denver & Rio Grande Railway 1872 Annual Pass, issued to Mr. J.L. Sanderson on account of Frontier Overland Mail Co. -- is a reproduction made as a giveaway for a bank anniversary celebration in 1972. The one and only original is owned by a museum. This reproduction has sold for as much as $400.
The following list of employee & public timetables were reproduced by the Colorado Railroad Museum. All of these items have been permanently marked as reproductions but also may be easily misrepresented. Special thanks to the museum for compiling this list.
ATCHISON TOPEKA & SANTA FE NEW MEXICO DIV. 56,8/30/31
ATCHISON TOPEKA & SANTA FE November 5,1939
Depot and Advertising posters have been reproduced, including the following:
Some other things to keep in mind:
According to Bill and Sue Knous, "The process used for reproducing illustrations changed tremendously in the 30s with the development of photoengraving. Halftone engravings are made from photographs, paintings or other copy that has tones or shades. To reproduce the tones, the photoengraver photographs the copy through a half tone screen. This screen looks much like a window screen but is much finer. The screen breaks up the image on the negative into tiny dots of different sizes. When the illustration is printed, the viewer's eye blends the dots into duplicates of the original tones. Under close examination through a high-powered glass the printed screen is obvious. We urge you to carry a pocket magnifier at all times. Closer examination of any collectible can pay off many times over. Remember, with regard to the printing process, if you examine a piece dated 1880 and you see a screen, chances are that it has been reprinted. "
With today's technology, the potential exists for reproducing paper items like passes and posters. Jim Hutzler suggests the following characteristics that are more difficult to fake and that would suggest authenticity:
Some officer signatures on passes from the 1800s (and a majority later) are printed, and a few of the early notables can be a little deceiving. Good examples are the Pullman passes with the huge George Pullman signatures from the 1870s. These were the special series for big-wigs, but all of this type that I have seen are printed, not an actual signature. Most paper fakes can be identified as such just by using a little common sense and historical knowledge."
Update. See separate page of comments sent in by a collector regarding timetable authenticty.
Comments or additional information are welcome. See Contact Us page.
Special thanks to Bill and Sue Knous for permission to reproduce text and images from their book. Also thanks to Jim Hutzler.