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Railroad Baggage Tags
Baggage tags are remnants of intricate system that railroads used to manage the luggage of passengers. In the very early days of railroading, passengers looked after their own luggage. However as business volume increased, some luggage became lost or stolen, and railroads then had to deal with angry customers who demanded reimbursements. At the same time, busness growth also led to a greater amount of baggage to be handled. In his railroadiana book, Charles Klamkin notes that the original luggage weight allowance for rail passengers was fourteen pounds, but this had to be increased to four hundred pounds when people started traveling to fashionable resorts. Thus for both security and logistical reasons, a more systematic approach to managing luggage was needed.
The solution was a system based on small metal tags printed with pertinent information such as the railroad(s) involved, routing, and an identification number. Most railroads used a duplicate-tag system, whereby one tag stayed with the individual suitcase or trunk and the other was retained by the passenger. A number of companies specialized in making baggage tags, including Robbins, Hoole, and Wilcox. Tags came in a variety of shapes, and most were made of brass, more rarely of other metals such as pewter. Starting with the early decades of the 20th century, metal baggage tags gradually were replaced with tags made of paper, and of course this paper system basically continues to the present with modern air and rail travel.
Given the immense volume of passenger rail travel in historical times, one would think that collectors would have no trouble finding baggage tags today. However, it is probable that the vast majority of metal baggage tags were donated to the metal scrap drives that occurred during the two world wars. As a result, not all that many survived, and tags marked for obscure railroads and routes can command impressive prices.
Below are images of baggage tags that show a variety of lines, shapes, and routes. These tags are from the collection of the late Chuck Richardson. Photos are by Ken Andrews who generously made them available (Thanks, Ken!). Also see "Tag Town", a great site on railroad baggage tags maintained by Scott Czaja.