Questions & Answers
Buying & Selling
Collectors of railroad lanterns have various terms that are used to refer to different lantern parts and types. Here is a brief list of some of the more common terms, without any attempt to be exhaustive. At the bottom of the page are references for more comprehensive glossaries.
Bail. The handle of a lantern, formed in a semicircular shape. It is usually made of round wire but occasionally of other material such as wood or tubular metal. Sometimes the bail was insulated with rubber or some other non-conductive material to be used in electrified operations where electrocution was a danger.
Burner. The metal device that holds the wick and ratchet to advance the wick.
Fount. The container that holds the lantern fuel, typically made of metal although very early ones were made of glass. "Twist off founts" were part of the lantern frame that could be removed by twisting and dropping it from bottom of the lantern. After these were discovered to be too prone to dropping off in service, most manufacturers switched to making the "insert fount" frame by which a separate fount was dropped into a well that was integrally part of the lantern. With a globe in the lantern, these founts could not drop out and hence were safer. Lanterns with twist-off founts therefore tend to be older, although one lantern in particular was made until recently with a twist-off fount -- the Dietz Vesta.
Frame. The body of the lantern consisting of the dome, lid, verticals, horizontals, and fount container.
Globe. The glass form that enclosed the combustion chamber of the lantern. Different glass manufacturers made globes for railroad lanterns, among them Corning, Kopp, Macbeth (later Macbeth Evans) and others.There are a large variety of subtle shapes as well, which are covered in most reference books. Among tall globes (5 3/8" and thereabouts), collectors distinguish the "extended base" globe from the "Corning style" globe, the former being characterized by a 1/2 inch or so downward extension of the glass below the "bulb" portion of the globe. The "Corning Style" globe was a later style that lacked this extended base. Among short globes is a special style called a "fresnel" globe distinguished by deep horizontal ridges that act to amplify light.
Globe retainer. A stamped metal fitting (or combination of fittings) that resides inside the smoke dome and that holds the globe in place. Typically the globe retainer fits snug against the globe under spring tension.
Horizontals. The horizontal wires or stampings that are part of the frame and that surround the globe to protect it. Horizontals are usually made of round wire or plate metal. Most lanterns have either single or double horizontals.
Markings. Most but not all lanterns were marked for the railroad that bought them. Typically these are initials, which are in some instances obvious or well known indicators of the railroad and in other instances more difficult to identify. For example "A.T.& S.F. Ry." is definitely the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway but "M. RR" could be any of a number of railroads. Complicating the picture is the fact that some of the manufacturers (or workers on the production line) were not always scrupulously careful about ensuring that the markings were completely accurate. Many (but not all) globes were also either etched or cast with railroad markings as well, and the same identification problems apply here. In some instances, a set of initials simply remains ambiguous as to the real railroad reference, but this gives collectors another thing to talk about.
NYC Dietz Vesta. A lantern deserving its own glossary category because it was produced in such vast quantities for the New York Central Railroad that it is by far the most commonly found RR lantern. A reliable source reported seeing one in an antique shop in Athens, Greece, not normally thought of as New Central territory. Its common status does not, however, deter some antique dealers from pricing them as if they were exceedingly rare. It's OK to have one of these in your collection or maybe even several, but they should be kept apart because they are rumored to be capable of reproducing.
Verticals. The vertical wires or stampings that connect the top of the lantern to the bottom and that partially enclose and protect the globe. Verticals are usually made of round wire or plate metal. In the case of plate metal stampings, collectors refer to these as "flat verticals".
Note: A more comprehensive glossary can be found in Barrett.