Questions & Answers
Buying & Selling
About Fakes & Reproductions
As fakes and counterfeits continue to plague the field of railroadiana collecting, it's more important than ever for collectors to share their knowledge. First, a distinction needs to be made between fakes and legitimate reproductions. Most collectors would probably agree that a piece of railroad memorabilia may be reasonably and ethically reproduced as long as the piece is clearly marked as a reproduction. For example, a fair amount of railroad china has been reproduced as copies of original patterns used by the railroads. To the extent that these are marked clearly as reproductions or carry date codes that identify them as newly produced, no one is (or should be) fooled. On the other hand, fakes are designed to cheat and deceive collectors by posing as originals and therefore are intentionally not marked as reproductions. For the most part, any item that (1) has a railroad-marking (2) was not produced for that railroad, and (3) has no identification indicating its "new" status, falls in this category.
In a "grayer" (and more controversial) area are items which are newly produced as souvenir or fantasy items, perhaps without intent to deceive. For example, a large number of short-globe lanterns have recently been manufactured with railroad museum or fantasy railroad markings (see "Heritage Kero's" on our lantern-collecting pages). For the most part, these have been sold as commemorative or novelty items with no claim that they ever saw actual railroad use. Similarly, a large amount of "fantasy pattern" china has been manufactured using railroad logos or designs that are not even remotely similar to real designs used in actual railroad service. Since these fantasy lanterns or china do not have a "reproduction" label, they could potentially be mistaken by someone as a real railroad artifact -- and in fact there are many accounts that this has happened.
The growing popularity of collecting items via the internet has made the problem of fakery even worse, since the anonymity of transactions makes it easier to defraud buyers and harder for buyers to obtain refunds. A special example of this is the internet auction where bogus railroadiana can be easily sold to unsuspecting collectors who may have only a vague description and fuzzy image to judge the authenticity of what they're bidding on. Fortunately, the internet also provides a unique method of sharing information quickly, and knowledge is the best defense against fraud. A good example of this is how word spread rapidly on the internet recently when a rash of fake reverse-painted signs began popping up all over the country (more on these below). No doubt, the internet warnings prevented at least some collectors from falling for this scam, although these signs continue to circulate.
In this spirit we continue to post information on known or suspected railroadiana fakes and reproductions. See the list of links and "Fake Alerts" box on our main Fakes page. Also see our FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) on Fakes. We have obtained this information from various sources judged to be knowledgeable and accurate, and present it with "honest intentions". However we cannot guarantee complete accuracy, so please use this information as advisory only -- see "Disclaimer and Things to Consider".
Bottom line: Know that this fakery is becoming increasingly common and learn all you can about the items that interest you. Study the books available as well as other publications that discuss reproductions. Talk with other collectors and learn your railroad history. Don't assume that just because others are bidding up an item that it is genuine.