A nice example of a Pennsylvania RR lantern with an etched amber globe
Before city lights and modern GPS units the railroad lantern served a very important purpose. They communicated signals between trains and stations at night. A timely lantern signal could mean the difference between life and death. In one 19th-century story, a 15-year-old girl saved a train from a broken bridge by alerting a station agent, whose lantern signal to the train averted disaster.
Collecting railroad lanterns can provide a fascinating glimpse into the history of America during a time when trains provided the best coast-to-coast access to travelers from across the country. Although many of them may look alike to the untrained eye, antique railroad lanterns come in an intriguing variety of types and designs that can affect their value and collectability. For those who are new to collecting railroad lanterns, here are some tips for getting started.
In the basic sense a railroad lantern has four components: a base, a cage (wire guard), a chimney, and a glass globe housing the light source. The cage protects this globe from damage, but, even so, antique lanterns with intact globes are rare.
Lanterns can be divided into a few basic categories. The first is the fixed-globe lantern, the earliest type. These were popular from the Civil War period to a few decades afterward. Then in 1865, William Westlake built a tall-globe lantern, which was widely used from the 1870s until World War I. The globes on these lanterns generally measured between 5 3/8 and 6 inches tall. After World War I until the 1960s the tall-globe lantern gave way to the short-globe lantern, with globes measuring between 3 ¼ to 4 ½ inches tall. This smaller chamber size was better suited to burn kerosene, which had replaced signal oil as the main lantern fuel. There are also Conductors and Inspectors lanterns though these are usually hard to find.
Lanterns that have railroad markings are generally more valuable than the unmarked ones. The rarer and more unusual the marking, the more valuable the lantern.
Most of the time you’ll find the short-globe lanterns which were manufactured by companies like Adams & Westlake, Armspear Manufacturing, R.E. Dietz and Lovell-Dressel.
Railroad lanterns are a fascinating piece of Americana but they are also a highly decorative collectible and can be used to enhance the decor of any design scheme. By doing research and using reputable sources, collectors can amass a fine collection of these iconic symbols of America’s past.
Here at Allegheny Books and Antiques we have a large selection of vintage railroad lanterns in stock right now. They are all in great shape and cover many area railroads like the Pennsylvania Railroad, Erie Railroad, B&O Railroad and others. Stop in to see the choises you have.
A cabinet full of railroad lanterns give you a wide variety to choose from