Questions & Answers
Buying & Selling
Railroad Uniform Buttons
Railroadiana collectors show a lot of interest in items that display a corporate logo or wording in some artful or fancy way. Examples are castback locks and "logo" lantern globes that can reach values in the hundreds and even thousands of dollars.
One such item that is perhaps overlooked because of its humble function and small size is the uniform button. In the era of long-distance and local rail travel, railroad personnel who had contact with the public usually wore uniforms, and these uniforms were "customized" for the company by the use of distinctive buttons. These were usually individually designed for each railroad and could be quite ornate. Most were made of brass or copper alloys, although aluminum was also used. In the U.S. only a few companies specialized in buttons, notably the Waterbury Company, the Scovill Manufacturing Company, and the D. Evans Company. Some early railroad uniform buttons bear the mark of British manufacturers.
For today's collector, uniform buttons can be a great entry to the hobby, since those from large railroads tend to be rather common - it took quite a few buttons to fill out one uniform. Some buttons also tend to be relatively inexpensive, although buttons from small, obscure lines are more in demand and priced accordingly.
Viewing buttons is best done under magnification, or even better, close-up photography. There is a remarkable amount of fine detail to be seen, and the best of them represent miniature tributes to the metal-caster's art.
Tom Stranko took these great macro close-ups of some rare uniform buttons. Tom notes that the "Laurel Line" (Lackawanna & Wyoming Valley Railroad) was a Scranton to Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania interurban. The Northern Electric Street Railway and the Scranton & Binghamton Railroad were basically the same road which never actually reached Binghamton; like the Scranton Railway Company, they served Scranton, Pennsylvania. The Atlantic Steamship Line/Southern Pacific Lines was a joint rail-ship venture. The New York, Ontario & Western Railway and Montpelier & Wells River Railroad were both steam railroads. He has no information on the lines represented by the other buttons, but they are definitely in the obscure category. Click on any of the images below for a larger version.