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Fake and Reproduction RR Lanterns: Alterations
The most common and insidious type of fake lantern frame involves altering an existing frame, usually by adding markings of a rare railroad. Since railroad markings are one of the most important factors in determining value, this counterfeiting method is a serious problem for collectors. The best defense here is careful inspection of lettering. The original manufacturers used dies to emboss lantern frames, and generally the lettering was evenly done and consistent in style from lantern to lantern. Unfortunately, some of these original dies are rumored to have been used to produce fake markings, so clean lettering is not an automatic indicator of authenticity.
Generally, collectors are advised to inspect embossed lettering for:
Note that it is fairly common from the embossed or stamped letters to have holes or tiny perforations through the surface of the lid, either through corrosion or a strong original strike by the manufacturer, so this in itself is not a cause for concern.
In addition to embossing, there are instances of tags soldered to the lids of lanterns to suggest identification with a particular railroad. Some of these tags are known to be authentic -- a few railroads, particularly short lines, actually did this in lieu of embossing -- so tagged lanterns cannot be automatically considered fakes.
The following information on known or suspected lantern alterations has been obtained from various sources judged to be knowledgeable and accurate. The information is presented with "honest intentions"; however we cannot guarantee complete accuracy, so please use this information as advisory only -- see Disclaimer.
Modified A&W Kero. The following was sent in by a collector regarding a modified (faked) A&W Kero. "I bought recently at an auction a Texas and New Orleans short globe Adlake Kero lantern. I bought the lantern for the etched red short globe and paid accordingly. The lantern pot was stamped 3-41 so the age was correct. I was suspicious that the top had been faked because the T&NO lettering was straight across, was also not correct for an adlake lantern of that vintage. The top latch was also of post 1960 construction, the top actually read Adlake Kero, and the top appeared to have been soldered on to the hinge. When I got the lantern home, it was obvious that the lettering had been applied later, but aged on the outside of the top to look old. There was also an aged solder spot in the top of the lantern, which covered up a PC mating worms logo. So it appears that even short globe lanterns are not safe from fakes. In my case I was lucky because I bought the lantern for the globe, and it fits my 250 kero just fine."
Scott Czaja, noted authority on early New England and fixed-globe lanterns, was asked to comment on fake, fixed globe lanterns and suggested that things to watch out for are (1) whether the plaster is all original, (2) whether there are any vertical mold seams (indicating the globe was made later), and (3) similarity to known, legitimate examples (although this is tricky because there were many little glass companies all over New England and therefore many differences in style.) Scott also indicated, "There seems to be "cut fixed globe" phobia in the hobby. I always want to know WHO says it's no good and, more important, WHY they think that it is no good. Yes, there were fakes made in New England going back 12-20 years ago. Many are not hard to spot for many reasons. Others are very good."
Other comment: "Just a note that your discussion does not take into consideration that a production line must periodically retool. The run time of the Vesta lamp alone would suggest the possibility of slight variations in the letters over the entire period. Along that line of reasoning, assuming the lids were stamped on two production lines it is also not unlikely that the two lines would have slight variations in the dies at the same period. I appreciate the concern as much as any of us, yet I believe you are missing opportunities by being overly suspicious of variations. Styles do and did change. Should not a more critical criteria be the fit and alignment of the stamping to the place allowed for it? And even here I have seen variations on the same railroad that in your analysis would be "fake" when I know by source it is correct. Am I correct that the manufacturer's applied road initials are not "stamped" into the metal as has been suggested but are rather "pressed" into it? The result is quite different and not easily faked on old and cold metal. Some of the examples shown would have fooled me (I've only seen the photos) on several. I can't imagine anyone successfully stamping that old metal, must less removing the lids and pressing it.
Years ago, 1973 or thereabouts, while touring the Maine Central Shops at Waterville Maine I noticed in their tin shop that their craftsman performed the functions of repairing lanterns. Rather than throw away a lantern they restored them and put them back out and/or actually made them. How long before my visit that work had ceased in that portion of the complex I do not know. It must have been years though, the dust was thick, and as I recall, work in progress was left right on the bench when the workers moved on. - Paul Larner 2/06
Thanks to Dave H., Roger Schmorr, Ted Douthitt, John Brainard, Paul Larner, and especially Tom Stranko