Questions & Answers
Buying & Selling
Fake Railroad Signs
A series of reverse-painted glass signs have been circulating and are definitely fraudulent. These are painted on sheets of glass,roughly 5" by 30", typically with black background and gold lettering. See example at upper right. They are very well done and have fooled many. The glass in these signs appears to be old, likely coming from either transoms or jalousie windows. Some of these glass signs indicate just a railroad name; others indicate a name and the word "tickets" or the phrase "White's Only". The following railroad names have been reported as appearing on these signs, with the names in upper case lettering. Please note that glass signs with railroad names not on this list are still highly questionable, particularly if they resemble the general style. New names continue to surface, and these signs may still be in production.
The "Jim Crow" era restroom sign pictured at right is a fake. Examples reportedly started surfacing in the Southwest in the Fall of 2002, and some have even been offered in internet auctions. According to the description of one collector, "...the letters appear to be black vinyl applied to the back side of the glass with thin whitewash loosely applied over it for a brushstroke effect. Then, some of the white wash is scratched off irregularly in spots throughout the sign. The letters always look just great, though." Various railroad are represented including the Santa Fe (AT&SF) and the Louisville & Nashville (L&N).
These signs are a great example of the principle that authentic "rare" items almost never surface in quantity. We are aware of one authenticated instance when a barrel of real, cast railroad globes was found in a New England warehouse, but usually when any quantity of similar and uncommon railroad antiques suddenly enter the market, something suspicious is afoot.
A large number of colorful, metal signs related to railroads have been produced in recent years as antique reproductions or novelty items. Some of these look like old advertising, while others feature railroad logo's or heralds. Generally these are not intended to pose as genuine railroad artifacts, but there is always the possibility that someone might assume this.
Update Late 2006: We've been advised that one or more companies have gone into the porcelain sign business, producing high quality and expertly aged signs. The signs are new, but they look old. Until recently most new railroad-themed signs of the porcelain-on-metal type have been produced as unblemished and newly-minted, so they don't look like antiques. However, this seems to be changing, and it is possible that someone could commission railroad signs and pass them off as authentic. Buyer beware.
Special thanks to Bill and Sue Knous and members of the rrdiana.nshore list.