Similar to railroad lanterns, since the creation of the railroads there has been railroads signage. Like collectors see in other antique collecting sectors, like petroliana, railroad signage is a fast growing and valuable sector of the hobby. Subject matter, like most signs, determines the value of signage. Railroad signage can come in all shapes and sizes with various materials and techniques having been utilized. Railroad signs exist in the most primitive with painted wood to elaborate porcelain and neon. Unfortunately, with the increased interest and prices on the rise reproduction railroad signs of all types are entering the market place – particularly porcelain and cast iron. RCAI works educate our members on the differences in the reproduction signs to help them avoid being fooled and costing them money. Some examples of railroad signage include:
- Porcelain Signage
Porcelain sign collecting is red hot – and that includes porcelain signage produced for railroads. Porcelain railroad signage often reflects the bold and colorful railroad logos that were used throughout the early 20th Century. Porcelain signs produced for railroads come in a variety of shapes and sizes, most are single sided although there are numerous examples of double-sided signs for railroad use. Diecut and raised letter (embossed) signs also exist for railroads across the United States. Words do not do most railroad signs justice and as always, beauty and subject matter is always in the eyes of the beholder.
- Railroad Bulletin/Train Boards
Many railroadiana collectors focus on collecting railroad “bulletin boards” which generally have the railroad’s name and destination for passenger trains. These bulletin boards are similar to looking at a screen at an airport looking for a departure gate and if your flight is delayed or on time. Railroad boards generally feature cities the trains are traveling to and from and places for the station agent to add arrival and departure times. These boards can be found in a variety of shapes, colors and sizes depending on the size of the station the sign place and time period in which the sign was produced. Bulletin boards exist from the most primitive painted wood, to beautiful porcelain to even beautiful stainless reflecting the art deco period.
- Cast Iron
As railroads expanded and infrastructure and equipment dramatically expanded and was improved – the railroads built things to last. Perhaps the greatest use of things built to last were the cast iron signs railroads produced as trackside markers, such as whistle posts or mile markers; railroad crossing signs to warn motorists; no trespassing signs and even in some cases depot signs marking the name of the town. Cast iron signs started appearing in large forms on the nation’s railroads after the Civil War and began to be phased out in the 1950s in favor of lighter (and cheaper) aluminum signs. As they began to be phased out their collectability started to increase. Cast iron railroad signs appear in all shapes, sizes and painted in a variety of colors. Some of them are so small they’ll fit in the palm of your hands, others it will take you and your friends to load in a truck (and perhaps a visit to the chiropractor afterwards!).