Antique Railroad Builders Plate Guide

The railroadiana collecting field can be broken down into thirty or forty types of collectibles.  Generally speaking, old builders plates have the highest average value of any collecting segment.  Most boiler plates are made of brass, cast iron, cast aluminum, or stainless steel.  A lot of builders plate are worth a few hundred dollars each.  Better than average plates (or plaques as they are sometimes called) can be worth between $1,000 and $3,000.  The very rarest locomotive plates can sell for in excess of $3,000.  These high values are surprising to many people because most plates are heavy, difficult to display, and generally not especially attractive.  However, for collectors they often represent the pinnacle of collecting.

Why Do People Collect Antique Builders Plates?

First of all, the fact that so many locomotive builders plates have survived is miraculous.  You have to remember that things like railroad china, passes, etc. had no real secondary market value.  When they were no longer needed they were stored away, forgotten, and then rediscovered at a time when they had some collector value.  If you have ever held a builders plate then you know that it is heavy and contains lots of metal.  A builders plate has always had value for its metal content.  And while many plates were scrapped, there are still plenty of survivors.  However, the popularity of plates relates directly to the fact that with a little bit of research you can learn exactly which locomotive the plate was attached to.  So while it is neat to have a railroadiana associated with a particular line, it is much more interesting to have an actual piece of that railroad, and that is what you are getting when you buy a builders plate.

How Are Railroad Plate Values Determined?

This is always the big question.  How much is my builders plate worth?  The two biggest factors that affect the value of a plate are the railroad and the size of locomotive.  Some railroads have many collectors competing for its memorabilia.  Popular railroad plates will always sell for good money.  Collectors also want plates from larger locomotives that transported people.  You should also consider time period.  We usually advise that older isn’t necessarily better.  However, many old plates were scrapped.  So in this case older is usually better.  There are a number of other factors that can make one plate more valuable than another.  We would strongly encourage you to work with an expert (like us) to determine an accurate value for your plate.

Locomotive Manufacturers To Know:

Most collectors begin their research based on the actual builder.  Here is a list of builders that you are likely to encounter:  American Car & Foundry Co, American Locomotive Co, Baldwin Locomotive Works, Baldwin Westinghouse Locomotive, Brooks Locomotive Works, Chicago Burlington & Quincy, Cooke Locomotive & Machine Co, Electro-Motive Division, General Motors, Fairbanks Morse & Co, Lima Locomotive Corporation, Pittsburgh Locomotive Works, Reading Shops, Rhode Island Locomotive Works, Rogers Locomotive Works, Schenectady Locomotive Works, and Vulcan Iron Works.  There is no premium associated with one builder over another.  However, some builders made locomotives from popular railroads or for large engines.  So consequently some builder plates do tend to have more value than others.

Fake Railroad Builders Plates:

As we have mentioned several times, antique railroad plates can be worth lots of money.  Forgers and fakers start to ply their trade once the collector values get high.  You can protect yourself by only buying from reputable dealers.  Try to pay close attention to the back of builders plates.  Remember that plates were affixed to railroads and were exposed to the elements for decades.  There should be a considerable amount of wear to the back of plate.  With that said, if a plate is damaged then its collector value will be diminished.  So there is a fine line between wear and damage.

Looking To Sell Or Need An Appraisal?

All railroadiana dealers are looking for builders plates.  They are especially high on our want list and we have helped build some of the better collections out there.  We are a market maker for many rarer plates.  If you have a single plate or entire collection for sale, then please contact us with pictures and tell us the dimensions of the plate.  We will respond back quickly with our offer.

Do you need help finding the value of your antique railroadiana item? We can help with single items or entire collections, and we provide a hassle free service and most of the time we can answer contacts the same day. In order to help you we will need to see pictures of your item or items so the best way to get started is to email pictures to us at

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