Fake Railroad China: Fantasy Patterns

One problem that afflicts the field of railroadiana collecting is "fantasy" pattern railroad china. In his book "The Official Guide to Railroad Dining Car China", McIntyre defines fantasy patterns as "newly designed and manufactured patterns that are marked for a railroad but were never used by them. Much of this china has probably been manufactured for novelty or faux-antique purposes rather than to deceive collectors, but it is clear that some sellers represent it as authentic. While experienced collectors are unlikely to be fooled, novice collectors may be, so there is real potential for this china to represent a bad, first experience in the hobby. There is nothing inherently wrong with fantasy patterns as long as buyers realize that the "real thing" never existed on a railroad.

Fantasy pattern china usually has a railroad logo as the primary decoration. The logo clearly identifies the piece as having an alleged connection to a railroad and therefore capitalizes on any nostalgia or interest in railroading antiques. However, such china is usually very cheaply made, and often the representation of the logo is so crudely done that it would not be a source of pride to any railroad. Consider that railroads were keenly aware of the public relations value of high quality china in their dining cars and spent much time and money ensuring that the patterns and workmanship represented them well. The cheap appearance and low quality of most fantasy pattern china would not be very good selling points for promoting passenger service. Utimately, the best advice for new collectors is

  • Be highly suspect of any railroad china that does not look like heavyweight, well-made, commercial-grade ware.
  • Learn what to look for in authentic railroad china patterns.
  • Learn the manufacturer's marks, since some fantasy china carries a modern manufactuer's mark that immediately identifies it as recent production.

The following information on fantasy pattern railroad china was compiled from several sources, including Bill and Sue Knous who generously gave us permission to post text and material from their book Railroad Detective: A Guide to Replica and Counterfeit Railroad Collectibles and Dick Luckin, author of Dining on Rails, Teapot Treasury and Mimbres to Mimbreno, who provided most of the china photos and information for Bill and Sue's book. Other sources were members of the railnet list and various collectors. Some fake railroad china is a variation on an authentic pattern, and these are shown on the Fake China: Reproductions page. See notes below for credits and important information.

A number of creamers, mustard jars, butter pats, eggcups and other pieces have been made with big, gaudy railroad logos applied to bone white china stock. Sometimes additional striping or ornamentation has been added. Among the railroads represented are the New York Central, Chicago & Northwestern, Santa Fe, Southern Pacific, Missouri-Kansas-Texas, Missouri Pacific, Union Pacific, Pennsylvania, and others. These have mostly been made in Taiwan, although there are reports of domestic production by individuals. All of these look more like souvenirs than commercial-grade china but may fool a novice. Some have crackle glazing to make them appear old -- a common "faux-antique" technique. See page on this topic.

Below. The following are fantasy items have a "NEW 1990" sticker which is easily removed.

Right. A B&O pitcher -- all blue with :Baltimore & Ohio dining Car Service" in script lettering --and squarish teapots with LV, C&O and B&O logos. These were never actual railroad patterns. They all carry the modern or current HALL backstamp logo in use since 1972. Most of the railroads stopped dining car service in May of 1971. Thus the manufacturer's mark would be after the fact.

Right. B&O, WB&A, OLD BAY LINE and WM creamers. They are marked only with the word HALL omitting the full manufacturer's bottom stamp. Years from now it would be difficult to date these pieces. The original WM pattern had pinstripes. The reproduction does not.

Right. BR&P and LIBERTY BELL unhandled creamers. These were manufactured by Homer Laughlin and carry a DDD- 1 date code which indicates 1989.

Right. Three cocoa pots LV, SAL & B&O. All were made by HALL. The LV and SAL were bottom marked only with the letters HALL, again omitting the full manufacturer's mark. Both have gold logos applied with the overglazed technique. The B&O pot on the other hand is decorated in white. At this time there is no record to indicate this was ever ordered or that it was ever done in white by the real ralroad.

Right. The butter pats manufactured by H-L. Although not bottom stamped this was a common practice with many of the china companies. Research at this time has been unable to verify the B&O pattern pictured. The LV is similar to the ITHACA pattern. In regard to the NYC MERCURY pattern piece there has been research done to conclude that the NYC never had pats made in this pattern. Click on the image for a larger version.

Right. Five available egg cups. Once again with the New 1990 sticker removed these would be easily misrepresented. The original B&O pattern has a darker red color than the repro shown. The READING pattern original had pinstripes above and below the logo. The repro has the pinstripes in a different configuration. Again there are no manufacturer's marks on the bottom of these. Click on the image for a larger version.

Right. Demi-sets manufactured by Homer Laughlin. The saucers all carry the modern H-L logo and the date code EEA-1, which indictaes 1990. Again, knowing your date codes and manufacturer's marks will assist the collector in making a purchase based on authenticity.

Right. A NYO&W reproduction plate for the O&W Railway Historical Society's 25th anniversary and bottom stamped accordingly. It is fairly common for historical societies to reissue commemorative plates of various kinds, and these are usually responsibly backstamped so that there is no confusion with respect to railroad origin.

Right. N&W pieces have been produced using a plain Norfolk & Western logo, as shown near left; however, this is not an authentic railroad pattern. The pieces include a dinner plate, lunch plate, cup and saucer and a ceramic tile. Manufacturer is unknown.

Right. New York Central System side plate. This piece is overglazed. Bottom stamp reads "Homer Laughlin, Made in the USA. Baxter Cat. 91060-050." Black on white. There are a number of other fantasy peices with the New York Central logo applied to white stock as well.

Not Pictured. Questionable L&N "spongeware" pitchers surfaced in the mid 1990's, and an example has recently shown up in an internet auction. Read more about this on a separate page.

Advice. As with other specialty areas of collecting, the advice about self-education and seeking the advice of other collectors applies especially to china. RCAI regularly publishes information on china fakes and reproductions. In addition, there are two fine publications that discuss this topic along with other aspects of railroad china: Dick Luckin's "Dining on Rails" and Doug McIntyre's "The Official Guide to Railroad Dining Car China".


This information comes with no guarantees and is advisory only. See Disclaimer and things to Consider.

Bill and Sue Knous operate one of the premier railroadiana auction services, Railroad Memories, and consequently are well-positioned to know about railroadiana fakes and reproductions. They have been very generous in sharing information with the hobby, and we heartily thank them for their gracious permission to reprint the information that they have compiled. Also special thanks to Dick Luckin who provided many of the original china images and information.

We welcome additions, information, and images for this page. In particular, we need better color images to replace the black & white ones. See Contact Us page.