Many people are fascinated by railroads. At one time,
railroads were connected to most aspects of community and economic
life, and almost everyone had the experience of taking the train
to some distant destination. Today, railroads are still a vital
part of the nation's commerce, but they have largely evolved into
less publicly visible movers of freight. For the most part, the
romance and glory of the great age of railroads has passed from
One way of remembering this bygone era is through
collecting artifacts that have survived the years. Most railroad
lines were (and are) large enterprises requiring vast amounts of
material and equipment to operate. While much of this material and
equipment like locomotives, cars, buildings, etc. are "collectible"
for only a small number of people and organizations with the resources
to maintain them, smaller items like lanterns, china, paper, and
locks are well within the reach of individual collectors. Therefore,
many people seek out such items -- often called "railroadiana"
-- at auctions, garage sales, antique shows and "collector
is no standardized set of categories for railroadiana. In fact,
the items associated
with railroads are vast and almost defy classification. However,
here are some of the more popular types of items that railroadiana
collectors have in their collections.
of many different styles and types were used by railroads. Their purpose
was to both designate authority and indicate employees' jobs. These functions
were especially necessary because of the many different occupational categories
that railroads used as well as the large geographical size of their territories.
Employees who performed the same jobs over perhaps hundreds of miles needed
some way of indicating their authority, and badges were a major means of
doing this. Among the job categories designated by badges were: engineer,
porter, conductor, gateman, station agent, special agent (police), detective,
ticket agent, information clerk, time clerk, and many more. See also:
To make their dining cars service an enjoyable experience, railroads
gave a lot of attention to the china that was used. Often custom patterns
were employed with the railroad's name or logo incorporated into the design
or at least marked somewhere on the piece. Nowadays collectors prize this
china, and it has become one of the most popular categories of railroad
collectibles. Within any given pattern of railroad china, a variety of
different types of pieces may have been produced. These include plates,
saucers, coffee cups, demitasse cups, compotes, teapots, chocolate pots,
butter pats, egg cups, bouillon cups, ashtrays, and others.
order to use the wide variety of locks that railroads used to secure switches,
signals, buildings, and other facilities, employees were issued special
keys. Railroad keys were typically made of brass. As with locks, there
are different styles of keys, but the majority of railroad keys were of
a standard size with the bit customized to fit the particular locks of
each railroad. Today, keys from long-gone railroads are much prized by
collectors, with rare ones having substantial value.
Railroad lamps were generally intended to be stationary, were generally
made of a sheet metal or cast metal body, and used lenses to amplify light
from an interior light source. A wide variety of different lamps were used
by the railroads, including semaphore lamps, classification lamps, train
order lamps, bridge lamps, marker lamps, and switch lamps.
railroad crews of yesterday, lanterns were an essential tool of the trade
for relaying signals and inspecting trains at night. While modern electric
lanterns are still used in railroad service, most collectors look for earlier
lanterns that burned kerosene, signal oil, or other types of fuel. Most
of these lanterns are "trainmen's lanterns", meaning that they
were used by railroad crew members. There are also "conductors' lanterns"
(sometimes called "presentation lanterns") which were used by
conductors in passenger service and "inspectors' lanterns" which
were used for inspecting trains in terminals and yards. Among collectors,
any lantern or globe that carries a railroad marking is especially valued;
the rarer the marking the higher the value.
have always been an important part of rairload operations for obvious safety
and security reasons. Some collectors specialize in collecting railroad
locks, particularly ones that carry a railroad marking. Early locks were
often made of brass to resist corrosion and had ornate, sometimes even
beautiful, castings of railroad names to identify ownership. These are
sometimes called "castbacks" or "fancy back locks."
Later on, railroads switched to locks of plainer design, usually made of
steel. These are less sought after than the earlier brass examples but
are still of interest to collectors.
immense amount of paper of various kinds was (and is) used by the railroads.
Some examples: public timetables to inform passengers about train schedules,
maps to advertise routes and attract freight business, employee timetables
to inform crews about rules and operations, brochures to entice the public
to tourist destinations served by a particular line, passes to
allow guests and dignitaries free travel on trains, and many other types
of paper. For paper items that were produced for the public, railroad companies
gave a lot of attention to attractiveness and design. Today,
many collectors seek out this paper, some specializing in particular types
such as timetables or passes.
the very beginning of the industry, railroads occasionally needed to provide
free transportation to individuals. For example, officials of other roads
were sometimes given a tour of the lines, prospective shippers were invited
to examine facilities before agreeing to contracts; employees needed to
be transported to a work site, and so forth. The mechanism for regulating
such free transportation was the pass. Typically a pass took
the form of a small piece of cardstock, about the size of a modern credit
card with dimensions that allowed them to fit in a wallet. In rare instances,
passes were made of some other material.
is, of course, a major hobby in its own right; however, the railroad postcard
has become a sub-category of railroadiana collecting. All kinds of railroad
postcards have been issued, ranging from pictures of stations and scenery
to pictures of railroad equipment and even wrecks! The type of postcards
available include "real-photo" postcards, "linen finish"
postcards, and the more modern "chrome" postcards. Since postcards
tend to be inexpensive, they are a great way to begin collecting.
And much more.....
The items described above represent
only a fraction of the railroad memorabilia that collectors search
for. Almost everything that was used in railroad operations (especially
if it carries a railroad marking) is of interest to somebody.