A Fake PRR I1SA Builders Plate
by George Tsai

The Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) had an extensive class of 2-10-0 steam locomotives designated class I1SA. The original 2-10-0 class was designated I1, but as these locomotives were given major overhauls, the improved versions were designated class I1SA. Builders plates from these locomotives are highly sought after by collectors, but fake plates are a constant concern in this segment of the railroadiana hobby. Here is a fake I1SA plate that is very well done.

The first photo shows the fake plate compared to Ron Muldowney's real plate on the left and Joe Clayton Jr.'s real plate on the right. Click on the image for a larger version. The dimensions of the fake plate are 11 1/2" x 7 1/4" x 7/16" thick. The dimensions of Ron's real plate are 11 5/8" x 7 3/8" x 7/16" thick. The dimensions of the fake plate are about 1/8" smaller than the real plate. I have found this to be a consistent pattern when comparing real plates to fake plates. Dimensions are not foolproof, but if you see a plate that is 1/8" or more smaller than published originals, you have a very big red flag. "North American Steam Locomotive Builders," by Harold Davies gives a good database of known plate dimensions.

The cleanly drilled holes of the fake is an obvious giveaway, but a faker could easily "rough-up" the holes and put a patina on the inside surface. The back of the plate is cleaner than one would like, but by itself, it would only raise a small red flag. There are original plates that have been sandblasted that have a cleaner back than this plate. Again if your original plate has boiler scale, don't even think about cleaning it.

The fake plate thickness matches the thickness of Ron's original plate. The curvature of the plate does not raise a red flag. It does seem about right upon examining the plate. The front of the plate has enough of a tarnish to show some age. Remember, this reproduction could have been sitting around for 30-60 years.

Here are some closeups of the fake plate. Click on any image for a larger version.


This fake I1SA plate is extremely well done and could fool a lot of people. It really took a comparison of a number of details to determine that it was a fake. If you only had a picture to work with and the holes were aged properly, you would have a very tough time determining that it was a fake. If you are considering purchasing a builders plate and cannot examine the plate in-person, the next best thing is to buy from a knowledgeable and reputable dealer.

Thanks to George Tsai for the information and images!