TagTown Ė Civil War and Beginners page

Many Civil War diggers and collectors have contacted me. There seem to be a few basic questions that are common. Before going into those, letís start with the fundamental question:

Is it really a baggage check? The first thing to do is ask the following questions in the following order:

  1. Is it flat and smaller than 4" X 4"
  2. Does it identify at least one railroad (probably by initials)? Working backwards you should be able to see RR or RY at the end of the initials
  3. If it is not a shell tag (2" X 3" rectangle), is there a number that uniquely identifies this tag? There are examples of very early checks that do not have numbers. I only have one with no number, so they must be rare.
  4. Is there a slot (usually 11/16" long) opening for a leather strap to be woven through the tag and attached to a piece of baggage? Round holes are not a good sign. These would be exceptionally rare.
If you don't have four Yes responses, you probably have a tool check, time check or some other industrial or personal identification piece. I have a page on related material. Please check it out!

related items

If you have four yes responses you will probably want to proceed with age, origin and what everyone seems to be most wrapped up in: value! I wish "value" it had an "S" in it so I could use "$". I have a dating page, but this simply comes down to identifying the name(s) of the railroads and with any luck you will have a manufacturers hallmark too.

There is a book called Railroad Names by William D. Edson. For a couple of dollars you can learn a lot about US railroad history. If you can't find this book, eMail me with as much information on your tag (or better yet an image) and Iíll try to help you out. One thing to keep in mind is that some of the merger dates listed are related to "legal" information and not common naming conventions. For example the Old Colony Railroad in Massachusetts was absorbed by the New Haven Railroad in 1893. The name Old Colony was and is still used in conversation. With a little patience you can trace a railroad form its earliest name form to some awful, greedy conglomerate today.

You might also be able to use the makes page that I have to narrow down the time frame used for each known hallmark. These vary widely. For example Hoole had no fewer than 7 known hallmarks. This is a real help when it comes to dating.

Valuation is hard. Generally in the railroadiana field, we tend to be either regional/local collectors or an item specific collector. This means that a guy from Lima Ohio would give his mother in-law (OK, something of value) for a Lima Ohio baggage check or dater die and anything with his local railroad or town name on it. The other camp wants variations on a large scale. For example someone who wants a piece of china from every company that operated a dining car. This is not to say that the two don't mix and cross over, but the local guy is the one that usually steps up to the plate on unique items. This being said, the following factors generally determine value:

  1. Condition
  2. Railroad name and or Town(s)
  3. Age
  4. Maker visit makers page here
These factors work in strange ways. Condition seems to play hard on the battle sight diggers. I know you work your tail off finding genuine Civil War memorabilia, however the Railroad crowd is a bit more picky about current condition than "been in the ground 140 years" authenticity.

I have purchased "dug" checks on eBay for between $10.00 and $50.00. I have also paid well over $100 for a dug check from a maker I didn't have.

One of the most common questions/comments from diggers is the unexplained phenomenon of finding baggage checks at CW dig sights from railroads that didn't exist until after 1865. One theory is that a visitor (probably GAR) might come back for a visit and end up losing a baggage check accidentally.

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