"Brass-Top" Lanterns

Among tall-globe lanterns, "Brass-tops" are generally considered by collectors to be the "Holy Grail" of the hobby.  These lanterns are distinguished from others of the tall-globe variety by a smoke dome that has a brass or brass-plated top.  The main purpose of such a top was apparently to control corrosion, since brass will tarnish but will not rust and deteriorate like steel. Collectors like them because the contrast between the different types of metal, especially when the brass is polished, creates a very attractive appearance.  Also, most brass-top lanterns were manufactured in the latter decades of the 19th century when railroad construction was at its peak. Therefore brass-top lanterns often carry very historical railroad markings.

The point when brass-top lanterns ceased to be manufactured is unknown although some were manufactured after 1900. Occasionally some brass-top lanterns like those from the "Chicago, Milwaukee & Puget Sound" are found with a globe seat, which was not invented until after the turn of the 20th century. Also, a few post-1900 Adams & Westlake lanterns which are normally found in all-steel versions are found with brass tops. It is likely that brass-top lanterns were phased out of production because of the extra expense involved in producing them as well as improvements in protecting steel-top lanterns from corrosion through tin/solder coatings.  Below are a few  examples of brass-top lanterns. 

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Above Left:Brass-top tall-globe lantern made by Handlan-Buck Mfg. and marked "MK&T RR" (Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railroad).  It has a  twist-off fount and a Macbeth red globe etched "MK&T Ry". The "MK&T" marking precedes the more modern railroad name of "MKT" or "Missouri-Kansas-Texas".  The "Handlan-Buck" corporate name dates to 1901. Collection of Bill Kajdzik.   Above Right: Brass-top tall-globe lantern marked "C.M & P. S. Ry" (Chicago, Milwaukee & Puget Sound Railway) with an unmarked red globe and a twist-off bell bottom base.  The frame has a patent date of May 28, 1895 and no manufacturer's marking, although Cunningham (personal communication) identifies the manufacturer as Adams & Westlake.  The CM&PS Ry was incorporated in 1909 as a subsidiary of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad for purposes of building the latter's Pacific Coast Extension.  Collection of Bill Kajdzik.  
Above Left:  Brass-top tall globe lantern marked "Fitchburg" with a red cast "F R R" globe and a twist-off bell bottom base.   Collection of Bill Kajdzik.   Above Right: Brass-top tall-globe lantern made by Handlan-Buck Mfg. and marked "Mo. PAC" (Missouri Pacific) on the bell with a clear cast globe and a twist-off bell bottom base.  Based on the history of the "Handlan-Buck" corporate name, this lantern was made sometime after 1901. Collection of Bill Kajdzik.  
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Above Left:  A RR Signal Lamp & Lantern Co. tall-globe brass-top lantern marked "B.& A. R.R. (Boston & Albany)with a clear cast globe marked the same. Above Right: An Adams & Westlake "The Adams" tall-globe brass-top lantern marked "B.& O. R.R." (Baltimore & Ohio Railroad) and "LOCO" which stands for locomotive.  It has a clear globe etched with "B&O LOCO" and "SAFTEY FIRST".   This model carries a 1909 patent date.  With the exception of the top, it is identical in style to other "The Adams" models of its era (see A&W page) and is noticeably plainer than the more ornate brass-tops shown here.  

Note: Thanks to Bill Cunningham for providing corrections and additions to the information on this page.