TagTown History Page

The History of Baggage Tag usage

This page by definition is very long. A chronological order from early times to the present is used. Several different references are footnoted and defined at the bottom of this page. Note that there are many links to specific makers (makers page) and to specific tag types (types page). The objective is to keep this page free of images to (1) help loading time in a browser (2) the overall amount of content in this page. This page, and TagTown in general is devoted to commercial baggage tags. Personalized baggage tags (tags made for a specific individiual) are not a focus of this site. For emaples of personanized tags see the page of Related tags.

The principal objective of baggage service is to guarantee delivery of someones belongings while they travel. The United States baggage check "system" was a revolution compared to the existing "system" in Europe. In the early days Continental European travellers were responsible for their own baggage. "Personal freight" is the most accurate way of describing baggage. It has been essential throughout travel history to have ones baggage arrive at a destination in a timely manner.

Before railroads ships were the primary commercial transportation. Before the 1850s the traveling public was generally well heeled. There were both  2nd and 3rd class venues available, however, the rich were the ones who traveled. The baggage of the first class passengers would generally carry personalized identification of the owner right on the bags. This would generally be custom made (engraved) plates that were permanently attached to luggage.

The following sections Makers and Patents may seem to be the same thing, but they are not. There are many known examples of baggage checks where there is both the name of a patent holder (and date) as well as the name of the manufacturer. This can be confusing to novice collectors and is often used as a tool by people selling tags trying to dupe novice collectors. There is also a huge distinction between a patent date and knowing when something was actually made. This is a very common misnomer in collecting circles. Patent dates appear on all sorts of items and are not an indication of manufacturing date. A typical range of 15 to 20 years (or more) is not uncommon on patent infringment.

Earliest Railroad Makers
In the United States the first known maker of metal Baggage checks was James Hendley of Boston, Massachusetts in 1835. Hendley hand cut his checks from tin. Soon after J. W. Strange of Taunton, Massachusetts began manufacturing round checks. Note that all checks at this time were made in pairs (one for the bag, one for the customer to hold onto). It should be noted that a piece of leather strap was used to attach to check to the bag. The passenger would receive the check with the matching number (known as the "duplicate"). In this way a traveler would present their check at their destination and the baggage agent would produce the bag. Strange checks were manufactured from brass, which were cut at the Norton, Massachsetts Rolling Mill. Strange checks typically have a railroad name or initials on one side and an identification number on the reverse side. At this time (1841?) John Robbins of Boston, Massachusetts was working as a Conductor for the Boston & Worcester Railroad. The B&W RR requested that Strange create checks of a differnet shape (probably for quicker identification by employees) and he turned them down. John RObbins being an early entrapeneur, jumped on this opportunity and had dies made and manufactured the desired checks. Robbins was able to promote his checks and succeeded in getting more business. Because he was able to meet the requirenments of the ordering companys agents. The first Robbins non-ropund check was in teh shape of a long rectangle with 45 degree clips off the corners. The follwoign is a quote from teh 1871 Robbins catalog:

    I (then) had dies made, and cut a round and an octagon pattern from brass and composition. To these I soon after added other shapes, and then issued my second circular. I will remember on handing one of the circulars to a prominent railroad agent, his remark, "Those are all teh patterns that will ever be needed;" yet so indispensible have they become for a variety of uses, that a business which then required but one page of note paper for a circular, now requires a book of 88 pages to Illustrate.
    All of my  checks are made of Brass, Copper, or German SIlver, and furnished with straps of the best quality oak-tanned leather.

Chronology of patterns (shapes) supplied by John Robbins (taken directly from catalogs):
Pattern Count
 1861?  60 (+ 9 wood/coal)  claims 18 years of experience
 1868  186 (138 local/station, 48 reversible)  claims 25 years of experience 
 1871  338 (158 local/station, 180 reversible)
 1877  411 (193 local/station, 208 reversible)

In his 1877 catalog John Robbins claimed that "chalking" baggage and the use of paper checks would be unacceptable and that metal checks would prevail. Obviously chalk had its shortcomings (wearing off on handling) and paper too might become damaged.

Both Edmund Hoole and T. W. Morehouse were also making baggage checks before the Civil War. The first "reversible" (see Types page for details) checks were being produced before and about 1858 (Hooles famous 1858 patent).

Attributes of the earliest tags
After observing hundreds of tags it is possible to draw some conclusions when it comes to determining relative age based on several factors. These include:

Makers that are known to have these attributes are: John Robbins, Edmund Hoole, J.W. Strange and T. W. Morehouse. Visit the Makers page to see a complete list of known makers.

Earliest Patents
As mentioned above Edmund Hoole received a patent for the first "reversible" baggage check in 1858. There is an example of a "dug" reversible which has "Pat Appld For" on the bottom of the Hoole makers page. Many other makers took advantage of this patent. It is unclear today what the financial transaction between Hoole and other manufactureers was. The concept was that using 2 checks (1) single sided passenger receipt and (2) a check that had two destinations on the bag check,.the routing on the opposite sides of the bag check were reversed. This was to simplify confusion among employees while handling a vast amounts of baggage. The bag check had two slots so that the correct "side" would be facing out.It is believed that John Robbins, although a prolific maker never held any patents.

In 1863 Furniss & Myers of Cleveland Ohio, patented a very long 6" bag check that had a "list" of destinations, each destination had a slot so that the leather strap could be inserted to show two locations: (1) the source town (2) the destination town. There is only one known example of this check, it was made for the New London Northern Railroad (Central Vermont predessor in Connecticut and Masachusetts). This is an interesting oddity in that a check has a pracitcal limit in terms of length. Any more than 10 stations would be cumbersome to produce. It is also interesting that introducing a new location inbetween existing stations would obsolete this type of check quickly.

1863 also saw the first paper/cardboard check patent. W. Richardson of Springfield, Illinois recognized that as the railroads grew and the number of stations increased that the number of reversible baggage checks required to reach all posible permutations was:
        total unique number of check sets required = (known#stations - 1) + (known#stations - 2) + (known#stations - 3) (until youu reach zero).
This isn't too bad when there are 12 unique destinations 66 unique check sets are required. However when there are 100 destinations the bare minimum number required becomes 4,950. When the number of unique destinations rises to 1,000 the number of unique checks required becomes 499,500. Of course checks were ordered by the dozen or gross (144). Richardson was a true visionary. He knew that growth would require the use of paper.

In 1865 Murdock & Spencer of Cincinatti, Ohio pateneted an improvement on the Hoole patent. Their idea was to lay the bag check out and strike both ends and then fold the check in half and rivet it together. This would remove any questionable "ghosting" that might exist on a single stamped piece of metal.Although this was percieved to be an improvemnt (appearance and strength) today this seems a bit foolish.

In 1867 Thomas Introduced a patent that accepted an insert into a sliding window. These were an improvement and both metal and paper inserts were used.

1876 saw an interesting patent from Jeremiah Sullivan of Chicago, Illinois. This patent was made for the Frank Parmalee Transfer Company (also of Chicago, Illinois). Note that Chicago was a huge rail huib at this time and that there were many different stations servicing downtown Chicago. Frank Parmalee and Frank E. Scott were competitors for inter-station/terminal transfer business. The Sullivan patent provides for a vertical tag with two slots for a paper tag to be inserted. What makes this design unique is: (a) the bottom of the brass paper window slide is crimped on both sides (preventing the paper from "falling out") and (b) a small protrusion at the top of the paper insert to help hold it down. Parmalee was believed to be the only user of this papent. An image of an example made by W. W. WIlcox is available on the Wilcox page.

Future Outline - Under Construction

The Heyday(s) 1870-1890
    proliferation of makers
    Need for interline reversible change
    Paper (Robbins rejects paper in 1871)

The evolution of paper 1870-1900
    Need for interline reversible change
    Early use (Cheshire)
    Cheap triplicate (Quint)

The disapearance of non-shell brass 1910
    Need for interline reversible change
    Shells, use, makers, examples

The paper scurge
    Airline use
    Current airline process

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