Locomotive Builder’s Plates, also known as boiler plates, are probably the most sought after and desirable of Railroadiana and Railroad collectibles. Every locomotive produced was given a builder’s plate that was affixed to the side of the locomotive. These plates identify the manufacturer, locomotive model, and month and year of manufacture. Each and every builder’s plate is a representative of that locomotive’s service, and they are quite rare. Because of their value and rarity there are a number of fakes and counterfeits to be aware of and knowledge and research is your best ally. Plates were often one of the only items saved when a locomotive was salvaged and so when one went out of service this single piece may be all that remains of its history.
The value of a boiler plate is based mainly on what type of locomotive it came from. A plate from a small locomotive used to move around cars at a railyard will bring considerably less than a large locomotive used to haul passengers or freight on signature routes. Early builder’s plates tend to be brass, with later boiler plates in cast iron (because of brass shortages during WWII), cast aluminium, and stainless steel. With research from railroad afficianados or historical sources a builder’s plate by itself can be traced to the railroad and route that it would have been used on, this is crucial information in determining the value of the object.
Also check out our complete value guide for Railroad Builder’s Plates