Railroad Holloware
by Rick Wright *

The railroads have always tried to match the fine dining experience of the best restaurants with hotel-style china and holloware. Top quality silversmiths supplied the rail dining car services with patterned holloware heavyweight enough to be durable and classy enough to match the fine food served in the diner. Such holloware was also used in depot eating houses and in the general offices of the railroads.

Holloware is a term that refers to sugar bowls, creamers, coffee pots, teapots, tureens, hot food covers, water pitchers, platters, butter pats and other metal items (with the exception of flatware) that complemented the china on a dining car table. Flatware refers to the knives, forks, spoons and sugar tongs on the table. Holloware was usually silver-plated nickel or brass and, occasionally, sterling for business cars. The principal manufacturers were Reed & Barton, International, Gorham, R. Wallace, and Smith Silversmiths.

Holloware items were always marked for the railroads that bought them. Side markings might consist of logos or railroad names; bottom markings might consist of either the name or initials of the railroad and the manufacturer. Dating such pieces can be accomplished in various ways, depending on the manufacturer. Bottom marks from Reed & Barton and Gorham included tiny ships and swords representing certain years, and International used the last two digits of the year in a box. Photos in various railroad books might show holloware in use, thereby helping to establish a date. The best reference book on railroad holloware with excellent photos and descriptions was written by Everett Maffett. It has been published in original and revised versions and is a valuable addition to the collector's library.

Holloware pieces were made to be durable. Items were first formed from a base metal, usually nickel or sometimes brass. Handles, footings and finials were silver-soldered on, and the manufacturer and railroad markings were impressed into the metal. The piece was then plated 4 to 12 times with silver (not sterling) and cleaned to a high shine. Each piece was then wrapped in paper and delivered.

Collecting holloware can be a challenge and will make a beautiful addition to your collection or as part of your china display. It may be frustrating sometimes to try to find a piece that has no dings or dents, but they are out there. Just like china, some patterns of holloware are more scarce than others, usually the older ones. If you find a dented or beat-up piece that is very scarce, say from a small rail line or one that went out of existence early, it's a good idea to buy it and hope to eventually acquire a better piece than to lose it altogether. Keep in mind that initial orders of holloware included pieces that were never reordered, making them more valuable today.

If you find a desirable holloware item that is in less-than-excellent condition, it's a good idea to know something of silverware restoration before investing in it. First, items that contain very noticeable dents cannot be easily filled in or pounded out due to the thick walls of the piece. Second, if a piece has been resilvered and has a weak logo or side mark, it isn't because the logo was filled in with too much silver. The logo was just plain worn away in the polishing process before the piece was resilvered. Many of the larger railroads had a silver shop and resilvered their own items en masse without regard to protecting logos. While there are a few craftsman that can "restore" a logo by re-engraving it, most won't do this on silver plate because the material is too thick and too hard on their equipment. Third, find out if there is a silversmith in your area that works on silver plate. Try to get an idea of what a piece would cost to resilver to see if your investment is worthwhile. A piece can be repaired if the damage is of a minor nature. For example, a sugar bowl with nicks from being bumped by other pieces can be fixed. Tell the silversmith to polish the nicks out and stay away from the logo or bottom mark, then resilver the whole piece.

Taking care of holloware isn't the time consuming chore that some make it out to be. Most hardware and antique stores sell a product called "Never Dull". It comes in a blue can and consists of a substance impregnated in cotton wadding material that wipes tarnish away. Other cleaners made for silver will work well also.

If you display your holloware, putting it in a glass case will keep it from tarnishing too quickly. Be aware that if you heat your house with natural gas or heating oil, the sulfur in the air will cause the silver to tarnish quickly if not in a glass case. My display silver will last a year without cleaning. If you are selling holloware, clean it and immediately wrap it or seal it in plastic sheeting.

Holloware is rapidly becoming a very desirable collectible in the railroadiana field. Get involved and save a valuable piece of history. Happy Hunting!

Below are shown some examples of railroad holloware. Click on any image for a larger version.

Far Left. A rare Union Pacific cocktail shaker with a "Winged Streamliner" logo on the side. It's dated 1952. Middle Left. A Santa Fe hinged lid sugar bowl made by Harrison & Howson in the 1910s. This design was later used by International Silver for use on the Super Chief. Middle Right. A Salt Lake Route teapot by Reed & Barton. The mint side logo is a plus for this rare item. Far Right. An Oregon Railroad & Navigation Co. 8 oz. creamer. The side script and the scarce manufacturer enhance the value of this beauty.
Far Left. A Santa Fe syrup pitcher with attached tray in the diamond design. Made for the Super Chief by Reed & Barton in 1940. Middle Left. A Santa Fe Route dustpan by Harrison & Howson from the early 1900s. This predates Santa Fe {no "Route"} items; Santa Fe Route pieces are rare. Middle Right. Southern Pacfic "Daylight" chafing dish or food warmer. The wooden handle unscrews to fill the bottom tank with hot water. Made by Reed & Barton in 1936. An example of an item ordered only once. Note mint logo and top winged finial. Far Right. Southern Pacific "Daylight" celery dish with huge top logo. The bar jigger is side marked.


* Note

This article by Rick Wright first appeared in the Spring 1999 "Railroadiana Express", a publication of the Railroadiana Collectors Association Incorporated or RCAI. It has been slightly edited for web presentation. Rick Wright is past president of RCAI, and we thank him for permission to reprint his article here for all collectors to learn from and enjoy.