Nice...but not Railroad!
The growing popularity of internet auctions has been a real boost to antique
collecting since anyone with a computer can now market an item to potentially
millions of collectors. But the downside is that the problem
of misidentified and misrepresented items is now rampant.
For railroadiana collectors, this problem shows up when sellers claim that
an item has a railroad purpose or origin when in fact it has nothing
to do with railroads. In the vast majority of such cases, the seller
is probably innocent or just careless, but there is always the possibility
that a seller is dishonestly capitalizing on the romance and aura of
railroading to raise the value of an item. Veteran collectors are not likely
to be fooled, but new collectors may be, and that's bad for the
This page shows some frequently misidentified "railroad" items.
These aren't fakes or reproductions (covered in a separate
section of the website) but legitimate antiques that may be mislabeled
or misrepresented. This list is a work in progress --
see note below.
Click on any image for a larger version; use your BACK button to return.
Lighting. Until the post WW I era, much industrial, domestic
and commercial lighting was fueled by combustible fuels like kerosene
and various oils. Manufacturers made a
vast array of different lanterns and lamps for these markets, and while
some people nowadays tend to label all combustible-fuel lanterns as
"railroad" lanterns, most were not made for this purpose. In fact,
the railroad market was so big that it developed special styles of lighting
that tended to have a distinctive appearance -- see our lantern and lamp pages.
Following are some commonly misidentified lamps and lanterns. For many
pictures of other non-railroad lanterns and lamps see the Lanternnet site.
|Tubular Lanterns. A very
generic class of lantern is the tubular lantern, so called because
of the tubes flanking the globe. These were manufactured in many
variations and models by different manufacturers - see the Lanternnet site
for various Dietz models.
Railroad collectors sometimes call these "barn
lanterns" (see page
on this type), although they were used for many purposes besides
farm use. Unless marked for a railroad, these are not railroad lanterns.
A Dietz "Blizzard #2" model is shown at right from a 1917
|Driving Lanterns. It's hard to believe
that our high-tech, halogen automotive lamps have combustible-fuel
ancestors, but Dietz and other companies made lamps such as the Dietz
"Eureka" model at right for the early auto and truck market. This
model was shown in a 1917 catalog. See similar Dietz
"Octo" and Dietz
"Union" driving lamps. Note that these two have bails
-- wire handles -- which may make someone think they are railroad
lamps. They're not.
|Police Lamps. Though
this may look vaguely like a railroad semaphore lamp or slow-order
lamp, it's a "police lantern" marketed by Dietz in their 1917 catalog.
The catalog states, "the lantern may be carried in the hand or attached
to a belt by a spring clip." Also, "this type of 'Police' Lantern
is known as the 'Flash' through the operator's ability to throw a
beam of light or cut it off at will."
|Wall Lanterns. This
lantern looks vaguely like a railroad
car inspectors lamp/lantern or perhaps a
bit like a caboose or bunk lamp. However it is a Dietz "Wall Lantern"
made for, "...cellarways, dark passages, stairways, sheds, outhouses,
and similar places..." It was shown in their 1917 catalog, which
states that "these wall lanterns are not intended for use as portable
lanterns or vehicle lights."
|Darkroom Lamps. This style of lamp
often has yellow and red lenses used in the darkroom to limit the
amount of light for film exposure. The shield could
be lowered to black out the light without putting out the lantern.
It doesn't resemble anything railroad-related but is still sometimes
represented as railroad lighting.
|Utility Lanterns. Utility lanterns
sometimes have the general style of a short
globe railroad lantern on the top, but the bottom usually has
a much larger fuel tank. These have been made for various purposes
-- for utility maintenance, traffic control, road construction, and
as "truck" lanterns. See page
in 1956 Handlan catalog. There is a somewhat similar, large-tank
lantern marked for the Southern Pacific (Railroad) Company as shown
on our Adams
& Westlake short-globe lantern page, but generally lanterns
like this were owned by municipalities or utilities. If
not marked for a railroad, they're not railroad lanterns. Thanks to G.A. Vandercook who also gave
us permission to use the image at right.
|Bridge and Marine Lamps. Bridge
lamps and other marine lamps may be related to railroads, since some
railroads had extensive marine operations and almost all railroads
maintained bridges. However, a claim of railroad origin either has
to be backed up by a specific railroad marking on the lamp or a documented
history. A vast array of different marine and nautical lamps have
been manufactured for use on ships, boats, and water-side facilities.
An example of one -- probably a bridge lamp -- is shown at right.
|More Bridge Lamps. The
lift bridge lamp shown at right was made by Armspear Manufacturing
and is similar in general design to their railroad lamps. The company
probably used some of the same tooling to make all of their lamps.
See, for example, Armspear's 1933
catalog, and note that the railroad class and switch lamps have
similar design features to the bridge lamps although the latter use
different lenses. The larger image linked to the thumbnail image
at right is a page from the 1933 catalog.
China and Silver items. Many railroad dining car operations
used marked china and silver -- see our pages on railroad
china. Since these operations were a real point of pride for the railroads,
the elegance and distinctiveness of these items were very important to
railroad management. In many cases, special china patterns were commissioned,
and the surviving examples of these patterns are much prized by collectors.
However, there is a tendency for some antique sellers to label all commercial-grade,
marked china as "railroad china", when in fact many hotels,
restaurants, institutions, and businesses commissioned specially marked
china. They still do. Much of this china is as elegant and as beautiful
as authentic railroad china, and there are collectors who specialize
railroadiana collectors use two published references -- Luckin and
McIntyre (see our book list) -- to determine
if a given china pattern is a railroad pattern. There are also references
for railroad silver patterns -- again see our book
list. Just because the initials on a given
piece of china or silver match some known railroad initials doesn't
make that pattern a railroad pattern. That said, it is true that new
railroad china variations are still being discovered, so there is always
room for something new. However the burden of proof is on the claimant,
and absent a backstamp or marking that specifically identifies a newly
discovered pattern as belonging to a particular railroad, skepticism
rules. Following are a couple examples of misidentified china:
|"WM" China. The
initials in the logo at right could be interpreted as those of
the Western Maryland Railway, but the pattern does not appear in
the known list of this railroad's china. According to a knowledgeable
collector from New England, the "WM" on this particular piece is
really "MW" which stands for the Mount Washington Hotel in New Hampshire.
This pattern frequently turns up in Northern New England. Another
page on this website shows an authentic pattern from the Western
Maryland Railway -- the "Union
No larger image is available.
|"NP" China. Similarly china with a
logo containing the initials "NP" has sometimes been labeled as that
of the Northern Pacific Railway when in fact it was used by the Netherlands
Other items. Railroads marked a hugh number of items
with their initials, but not everything marked with initials has
a railroad origin, even if the initials look plausible.
For example, a bottle opener marked "B&O" periodically is
offered in internet auctions as a "Baltimore & Ohio" (Railroad)
item. See front and back images at right. The consensus among a number
of veteran collectors is that these initials actually stand for "Bang & Olufsen",
the upscale audio components manufacturer. This was a promotional item
perhaps of interest to audiophiles. Nice ...but not railroad!
We will add more to this page as we get it. New items
are welcomed, but cannot publish someone else's images without permission
so preferably send us photos that you have taken. Email us via the Contact Us page.
Thanks to everyone who has contributed information
or photos for this page.