In the 1800s and the early 1900s, railroads dominated transportation in the lives of most citizens. Still active in national commerce, railroads have nevertheless declined. The romance of the railroad and the opening of the North American west has strong associations for hobbyists and collectors. The entire subject is permeated by the romance of the traveling vagabond or hobo, who took his life in his hands when he decided to hop into a boxcar and ride the rails across the nation. Many vintage items, small and collectible, still appear in local flea markets, garage sales and antique shows, though perhaps shows dedicated to railroadiana may produce the better quality items. There are no specific categories of collectibles, but some general categories include, monogrammed China from passenger travel, including ashtrays, flatware and hollowware such as water pitchers and teapots. Other items include miniatures of the engine and caboose, signal lights, such as lanterns and lamps, many early ones still available that operated on kerosene or other kinds of fuel. Included here are the support containers such as the kerosene can for filling the lanterns. The value is greater for any items which carry railroad monograms and maintain a high level of condition.
Other items of interest include, badges used by inspectors, conductors, and railroad police. There are many kinds of posters and timetables, tickets, passes, as well as railroad stock and bond certificates, the more artistic, the better. There is considerable interest in locks and keys as many still survive. They were used to protect equipment in isolated areas from vandalism, the earlier locks being more ornate and built to survive the elements. Larger items are often available to the collector who has storage space. They usually include various kinds of crossing signs or vintage station identifiers. Originals are usually harder to come by. In recent years, there has been an increase in railroadiana fakes, and the wise collector needs to know his subject well before he invests too much in that choice-looking piece at the next flea market.