November-December 2017 Article

This Month's Article: November-December 2017
Collectibles of the Nelson & Albemarle Railway (Part 2)

This is a significant update to the Collectibles of the Nelson & Albemarle Railway article written for the This Month's Article of October 2010.  Originally, there were no plans to write additional detail on Collectibles because as collectibles, they can gain in value (like gold coins) or lose value (like Beanie BabiesR) but in the case of the Nelson & Albemarle Railway, collectibles have significantly GAINED in value.  I received an email from Mike S. over in Charlottesville recently where he asked if I could help to value an N&A artifact - a lantern stamped in metal with "N&A Ry. Co.". 
Step back about 3 years and a similar email generated the same response - a search of the value of an N&A artifact - in that case, the bell from locomotive #10.  For that research, the general nature of a steam locomotive bell found many clues as to the price people would be willing to pay and while the price received when it eventually sold is not known, the process used to value it at the time is known.  That research process (used again in the most recent case) looked at the sale of steam locomotive bells from across the country primarily at local railroadiana events and online auctions.  What was found at the time in using that process remained valuable but held a special key to gaining the highest sale price possible.  In the same way that locomotive bells had collectors across the country, so has the lantern, a Keystone/Casey manufactured between 1903 and 1930 with a plain clear, glass globe without any embossed lettering.  Locomotive bell collectors are an interesting group - they collect ones specific to a rail line or region where they live or lived and where the rail line holds a special significance for them.  At the time, bells from short lines were not selling for great prices UNLESS they were being sold local to the rail line or region where the rail line existed, the special key to getting the best price possible. 
The value of bells ranged from $200-$4000 at the time, with significant bells (i.e.; off of a N&W Class J) selling for top prices.  Lesser bells (those from smaller locomotives and relatively insignificant rail lines sold for not so much.  Enter the Keystone/Casey lantern inquiry - the same collectors of railroadiana have a special segment that just collect lanterns.  I've known one personally and his basement (unlike mine with a 10' x 17' HO-gauge N&A Railway layout) had rows and rows of shelves with lanterns from all across the Midwest region (where he grew up).  Key was having lanterns from his beloved Chicago & Northwestern (C&NW).  He paid the highest prices for those to make sure he could claim them for his collection. 
For Mike S. the research showed that most lanterns from before the turn of the 20th century garnered the highest prices especially with embossed glass globes.  Prices ranged from $400 to $800 and while short lines had no particular shift in value (especially for later manufactured lanterns) the key was to sell at local railroadiana shows where collectors of that rail line would likely be present, looking for something that fit into their collection and willing to pay top dollar for it. Scarcity may be the reason value shoots up for these rail collectibles or possibly just the time that has passed since the rail line even existed.  In the case of the bell, valuing it at around $400 likely was selling it short.  For the lantern the value was between $200 and $250 based on similar sales in the last 6 months of short line lanterns within the region where the short line ran.  Gladly, Mike S. did his own research and discovered a very hot market for N&A Ry. Co. items and when attending the local railroadiana show in Virginia he sold his lantern for $1200!  And he had another higher offer, but had already committed to sell at that price.  I can only imagine the bell from N&A #10 selling to a collector like that and bringing upwards of $4000 for that owner.  The market for collectibles of the N&A Railway has changed and artifacts such as the lantern, the bell from #10, and other physical items is very hot.  The Nelson & Albemarle Railway Historical Society still collects visual artifacts such as photographs, negatives, and paper memorabilia but believes that physical parts of the railway should either belong to private collectors or should be shared with the public at appropriate venues such as the C&O Historical Society in Clifton Forge, Virginia.  As a feeder line to the C&O, the historical society would seem to be a good choice as a repository for Nelson & Albemarle artifacts.

The most valuable artifact for this writer, is the historical letter, document, or photograph that exposes the missing background of the Nelson & Albemarle Railway such as what locomotives were leased, purchased, purchased used, or otherwise utilized as the original N&A #2, #3, or #8.  The many 'rumors' of a locomotive with tender or detail on "Maude", the motor car used by Henry Lane and family and loaned out to crews when needed are more important artifacts to capture and understand the full history of this industrial shortline railroad.  We'll again focus on finding those types of artifacts/information in 2018 with hopes that our readers will assist in finding those lost details and we can provide the full story of the Nelson & Albemarle Railway. 

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