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THE ANTIQUE COLLECTOR AND HISTORIAN - LIONEL BRASS LOCOMOTIVES

By Louis H. Hertz, SGA

(Text Reprinted From The Spring 1958 Standard Gauge Association Journal with photos added.)

Lionel 1912 Special

Photo courtesy Dave McEntarfer

The title of this department revives that first used by me in the “Model Railroader’s Digest” away back in 1936 and I find considerable pleasure in writing under this heading once again, particularly for so worthy an organization as our Standard Gauge Association. I am also extremely happy to find the names of so many old friends and correspondents, some familiar to me for twenty years or more, among the active members of the SGA today. In more than one way it seems to me that our new SGA JOURNAL is the successor to the good old MRD.

It need hardly be said that the old Lionel Standard gauge brass locomotives – the No. 6 Special and No. 7 4-4-0 steam types, and the No. 1912 Special and No. 54 0-4-4-0 electric types – have long held a particular fascination. As progress in our hobby continues, there are certain points concerning these models that I know from personal experience have caused some confusion, especially the differences between the earlier “Specials” and the locos subsequently sold as 7’s or 54’s. It is these points that I am going to try to clarify here, in the light of research to date.

Lionel #7

Bill Blystone Collection

Photo: Ron Morris

First, to recapitulate, the 4-4-0 brass and nickel steam type and tender appeared in 1909 as the No. 6 Special. It became the No. 7 in 1910 and continued under that number until last catalogued in 1923. There are several major variations, the most important being change from thin rim to thick rim driving wheels. Another point is that the brass and nickel steam type was for many years cataloged as having special phosphor bronze bearings, but this does not appear to have been carried out consistently in actual production. The number “7” had originally been assigned to a 4-6-0 type that was never put into production and, as mentioned, was only applied to the brass and nickel 4-4-0 after it had been listed for a year as the No. 6 Special.

Lionel #7

Jack Windt Collection

What is the distinguishing feature of the No. 6 Special? It is not the thin rim drivers, for these were used regularly on No. 7’s through 1912 and possibly later. The main clue lies in whether there is a car-lighting binding post inside the cab (or, of course, a hole punched for mounting such a post) as Lionel introduced their system of car lighting that fed back from a binding post in the locomotive in 1911. A brass 4-4-0 without this binding post is either a No. 6 Special or a 1910 No. 7. Some have suggested that the final clue might lie in whether the tender has the solid-sided trucks shown on the No. 6 Special in the 1909 catalog; a loco without binding post and with solid-sided tender trucks being a No. 6 Special; a loco without binding post and with cut-out tender trucks being a 1910 or first year No. 7, but I do not believe this can be regarded as conclusive; there is ample evidence that some truck sides were cut out in 1909 productions.

Lionel #54

Photo courtesy Dave McEntarfer

Now for the brass electric types, the situation is somewhat more complex and has taken some time to clarify. The first electric types in the Lionel Standard gauge line came out in 1910 – the No. 1910 0-6-0; No. 1911 0-4-0; and the No. 1912 0-4-4-0. The 1911 Special and 1912 Special appeared in 1911 and were made that one year only. The 1911 Special was a small 0-4-4-0 between the No. 1911 and the 1912 in size; the 1912 Special was a brass version of the 1912. In the year 1912 the No. 1911 Special became the No. 53 and the No. 1912 Special became the No. 54.

Lionel 1912 Special

Jack Windt Collection

In 1913 the big body style 0-4-4-0 appeared, the No. 42, replacing the 1912. This body had the rounded edges, in contrast to the square edges of the older style bodies - hence the popular if perhaps not wholly accurate terms “round body” and “square body.” For a long time collectors wondered at Lionel continuing to use the cut out of the old body style 1912 Special body, renumbered “53” (see note 1 below) in their catalogs through 1915, supposing it was some sort of economy measure. It wasn’t. We know now it was a fairly accurate representation of the brass locos sold in 1913, 1914, and probably part of 1915 at least as the No. 54. Lionel evidently made up a great over supply of square brass bodies for the 1912 Special in 1911, and kept on using them up until exhausted. When the first ones turned up, collectors of course liked to call them 1912 Specials, but we know now they should really be designated as early No. 54’s.

Lionel #54 (early)

Bill Blystone Collection

Photo: Ron Morris

The touchstone of a real 1912 Special does not even lie in whether or not it has thin rim wheels. All of these brass bodies made in 1911 were originally stamped for slide-on headlight. They were later re-punched with a single hole between the sliding ways for a screw-on headlight and the sliding ways flattened down. A real 1912 Special would have thin drivers and sliding headlight, with no hole punched for the screw-on headlight. Very probably some of these locos were sold in 1912 as 54’s. The next type of early 54 had thin drivers and screw-on headlight. Finally, in 1915 or 1916, the supply of square brass bodies being exhausted, a new stock of brass bodies were done in the same dies as the No. 42, producing the single motor round cab No. 54, which in turn later gave way to the twin-motor No. 54.

Lionel #54 (late)

Bill Blystone Collection

Photo: Ron Morris

In short, if a square cab brass Lionel loco, regardless of whether in has thin or thick rim drivers, has been re-punched to take the screw-on headlight, it cannot possibly be a No. 1912 Special, but must properly be distinguished as an early No. 54. Both thin and thick rim No. 54’s of this type are now known to collectors.


COPYRIGHT 1958 by the STANDARD GAUGE ASSOCIATION. All rights reserved.

Publisher’s note: this article was transcribed in its entirety from a copy of the Spring 1958 Standard Gauge Association Journal. We acknowledge the 1958 copyright on this material and reproduce it here based upon the assumption that, since the SGA Journal ceased publication approximately 45 years ago, the original copyright was not renewed and therefore this material has passed into the public domain. We also believe that the use of this material here is a “fair use” of an original printed article, since this web site is a not-for profit, educational, and archival endeavor. In this connection we have reprinted the original copyright information at the end of the article.

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Note 1: The renumbered "53" should read as renumbered "54." Similarly, the sentence could also read as ... the old body style 1911 Special body, renumbered "53" ... (but the subject is brass locomotives). Our friend LH got it mixed-up. On the other hand, the fact that LH found out about the surplus of square brass 1912 Special bodies is very good information on this subject. - Submitted by Paul Kovacs

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