The Basset-Lowke 5xp

Posted by: pauldaziz in Member Blogs

A good friend of mine who has been a collector since childhood, visited my collection of Bassett-Lowke gauge O a few years back, liked some of the things he saw, and began to pick up a piece or two when possible.  When I was about to move house, he asked if there was anything I had to sell, and indeed, I had a number of extra Catalogues from the 20's and 30's. He enjoyed them immensely, and was quite taken, as many of us are, by the wonderful historical descriptions, and the often crisp, detailed black and white photos.   

He has asked me questions from time to time about some of the things he has read and some of the pieces he has seen, and I have done my best to answer them.  Recently, he expressed general interest in the 5xP locomotives sold by Bassett-Lowke, and asked a series of questions about them.  He asked about names, colours, mechanisms, and stylistic differences, and here are the results of that correspondence.

Some 5xP's are "named", some are not.  The first 5xP produced and sold by Bassett-Lowke appeared  in the December 1935 catalogue.  It was pictured again in the August 1936 catalogue.  It is shown in '35 and '36 with no name plate.  The number on the cab-side is 5573.  This particular model continued to be listed, as the AC version, and referred to by number but not pictured, until the fall of 1939.  This is the way they were sold---mostly.  All of these first 5xP locos catalogued were made by Maerklin for BL.  In fact, the one which I own is exactly the one out of the "Century of Model Trains" book by Alan Levy, and which he sold to me in 1979.  It has no nameplate.  All of the other Maerklin 5573's which I have seen over the years were very, very similar to mine, but never exactly the same because, we must remember, these were hand-made in very small numbers in Goeppingen, Germany, and therefore one can often spot small, almost unnoticeable differences.  

However, there were a very few, I would guess perhaps no more than 5 or 6, which were apparently made to order with name plates.  The only names I have seen AND could verify as original were "Gold Coast", "Bengal", and "Newfoundland".  I have discussed this with Barry Potter, and these three names are the only ones he has seen to date also.  These named pieces were never catalogued.  However, the workmanship and methods of painting are exactly the same inimitable Maerklin style as on a standard Maerklin 5xP, and the nameplates are made exactly as the nameplates on the Maerklin/Bassett-Lowke "King George V" and "Merchant Taylors".  That is, the plate was plain, was soldered to the splasher during production, before the loco was finished,  then hand enameled in black with the name hand-painted in gold (or stenciled--it is not quite clear) and then clear-laquered over, along with the rest of the loco, with that typical Maerklin soft, almost sticky (70 years later!) semi-gloss coating.  There may be other genuine Maerklin 5xPs with different names out there.  Please let us know.

The colour of these first Maerklin bodied 5xPs has often been a subject of discussion. Yes, the locomotive is a kind of "red", but no one I know who was an avid LMS train spotter in his youth would call it a proper LMS red, or "maroon".  If you see one that is, you can be fairly certain that it is a repaint, along with all of the other indicators of a repainted piece.  The colour of a Maerklin 5xP is more like that of a standard bowl of Campbells' tomato soup (a bit darker perhaps), without any butter or cream in it.  I do not mean this as a joke; it is the best way I can think to put it.  Certainly this strange colour bothers a number of my friends in the BL Society, but it is spot on original Maerklin. In fact, if one sets a clean example of a Maerklin/BL 5xP next to a clean "Borsig", or next to one of the 4 axle '50 Ton' "Guterwagen" from the 30's, one will see that in texture and tone the Maerklin for BL 5xP came out of the same paint pot.  One cannot really call this "carelessness" on the part of the German craftsmen, merely "convenience".

This, along with other examples mentioned below, is a strong example of our knowledge that the Maerklin staff and managers, regardless of how beautifully they made toys, felt that they were making, well, TOYS.  While the Bassett-Lowke concept was, almost from the beginning, that they were making "models"--albeit of the coarse scale type. This difference in the treatment of colour, and the not so meticulous concern for it, alone must have accounted for some of the anxiety and frustration with Maerklin on the part of  Winteringham and W.J. Bassett-Lowke which Roland Fuller has written about.  

The mechanism of the 5xP is a very important feature to discuss.  I have never seen or heard of a Maerklin  5xP, or "King", or a 2-6-4 tank with anything but a Bassett-Lowke mech, with its typically beautiful, strong, well-cleaned cast iron wheels, and fine, accurate BL running gear.  HOWEVER, it must be mentioned here that the "Merchant Taylors", which was the first of the series of 4 Maerklin for BL productions of the 30's (introduced in Nov., 1934), comes with both BL and Maerklin electric mechanisms----always DC for the BL electric mech, and always AC (with internal reverser) for the Maerklin mech.  Original clockwork versions seem only to have a Maerklin mech.  But we must leave this "Merchant Taylors" matter to discuss at another time.  

Back to the 5xP mechanism:  It was always one of the following:  a.) A Bassett-Lowke AC mech., often found in early models between 1935 and 1936, necessarily, of course, with a hand reverse rod in the cab, and 16 spoke cast iron wheels with nickel plated brass pressure plates holding them to the axles and an external spur gear drive outside the mech. frame driving one wheel, and, of course, with nickel plated running gear.  b.) A Bassett-Lowke AC mech, on a few models, most probably sold between 1935 and 1938, which is fitted with a stock Maerklin DC converter so that the direction of the loco could be changed by switching polarity on the input side.  In the catalogues this is called "distant control".  David Burt has a fine, original example of this rare type.  c.)An AC mech, on some models sold after 1936, with 18 spoke cast iron wheels applied onto the tapped ends of the axles and then set with a round nut with a slit for the screwdriver (one must use a screwdriver with the center of the blade ground out), a crown gear driving one axle internally, and nickel plated brass running gear.  This is the same mech. which can be found in an early blue "Coronation".  These last two AC versions (b. and c.) seem to be quite rare versions for the Maerklin 5xP.   I have only seen each version once, though I have also heard of them from one or two other collectors.    d.) A DC mech, exactly as described in "c." but, of course, without the hand reverse rod and a solid backhead without a cutout for the rod.  This is the most common of the mechs for the later 5xP.

Of course, since the distance between the brass side frames on these last two mechanisms (c. and d.) are necessarily farther apart in order to accommodate the crown gear and internal drive gears, the body opening underneath the boiler is wider, and will not accept an early AC mechanism without a series of shims.  The reverse of this is that an early body opening at the boiler is too narrow to accept a later mech., full stop.

Please also note:  the pilot bogie on the Maerklin 5xP is ALWAYS made by Maerklin---complete: the frame, the axles, and the wheels, which are cast iron and more scale-like in size and appearance than the standard B/L front bogie with lead wheels which are a bit too small for most models.    

But, now here is the MOST IMPORTANT POINT  to make about the BL mechs in the 5xP:  Maerklin got the overall design for the locomotive drive wheels wrong!  Probably this was for the same general reason mentioned earlier here. But the main point is that the 5xP prototype, and the later more accurate BL models, "Conqueror" and "Victory", were Standard 10 wheel passenger locomotives:  4 bogie wheels in front, with the first two axles of the drive wheels fairly close together, and the last axle kicked farther out behind in order to bear the weight of the extra long firebox and cab.  As we can see, Maerklin did not put that last splasher far enough back, and allowed no room along the boiler length for the longer distance between the middle and last axle.  So, BL had to use a mech. from a "Flying Scotsman" or "Duchess" or indeed a "Coronation"---and of course these mechs, where the drive wheel axles were closer and equidistant, were meant for locos which were designed with a heavy duty trailing axle under the firebox and engine driver's house.  In fact, the entire body of the Maerklin 5xP is shorter than the B/L "Conqueror" by a full 3/4 of an inch.

So here are the "problems" with the Maerklin/BL 5xP: the wrong colour, the wrong spacing for the rear axle, the handrails which are too large, the washout holes punched right through the body with brass wire trim soldered on the edge of the hole, the heavily beaded (with brass wire) trim around the cab roof, the incredibly shiny reversing rod, a drawbar pin made from the end of the scribe pulled out of the bottom of the square used for the tin measurements (!),  the oversized boiler bands, the nickel plated smokebox hinges, and the tender wheel frames which were much too broad and only vaguely match the prototype tender----these are all of the "wrong things", the things to drive fine-scale buffs mad, but these are exactly the things which some BL collectors love as much as the Winteringham models. These are the kinds of things which give Maerklin its ineluctable charm.

It must be said here that the "King George V" has all of these charming features, but the size, the design, and the placement of the details is somehow with this one model spot on.  For these reasons, I personally feel that it is the most beautiful Maerklin locomotive ever made in Gauge O, and competes successfully in the coarse scale world of large passenger class model trains with the BL "A-4"s,  the "Coronation", the BL "Princess Elizabeth" and "Royal", and the BL "Duchess".  There is no question that the Maerklin for BL "Merchant Taylors" and the "2-6-4 Tank" are wonderful, but the 2-6-4, though a fine model, lacks the presence of the "King", and the wheels on the "Merchant Taylors" are almost always too small--(but not always, and this also is the subject for another time).
Before we move on, we should discuss one more Maerklin for BL 5xP--the "Silver Jubilee", #5552.  It is not mentioned in any catalogue which I know of, but I have been told that it is written about in one issue of "Model Railway News" in the Fall of 1935 in the "Trade Topics" section. This locomotive is very simply and clearly an early version Maerklin  #5573 5xP (see above) painted in black and silver to commemorate the 25th anniversary of  the reign of King George the Fifth, Elizabeth's grandfather.  He died later that year.  Though it is a basically black locomotive, the combination of a bright almost gloss black with very liberally applied Maerklin goldish/silver trim on the boiler bands, cylinder heads, buffer beams, and several other spots, makes a stunning combination.  It is of course rarer than the unnamed 5xPs.  It was most likely produced in mid-1935, along with the earliest Maerklin 5xP’s, to commemorate the event.  It stands to reason that all of the unmodified ones I have seen have an early 16 spoke wheel mechanism, and bear all of the characteristics of an early 5xP.  I have seen it both in AC and DC versions, but know of no clockwork versions.

One more small but important point about the Maerklin 5xP must be made here.  In the November 1937 catalogue, under the listing for 5xPs, a footnote appears which offers a Maerklin 5xP #5573 altered as a standard LMS 5P "Black 5".  This listing appears in every subsequent catalogue through the 1941/42 issue.  In the Fall 1939 catalogue, the description is changed to read 5P/5F.  However, we must leave the Bassett-Lowke 5P/5F Black Five as the subject for another article.

Now we must address the 5xP called "Conqueror", #5701.  This was made by BL in order to try to recover from the criticism which the Maerklin 5xP brought from some customers at the time, and because events on the Continent were becoming a bit too unsettled.  It was first catalogued in the December 1936 catalogue and listed up to and including the last 1941/42 war catalogue. Yes, it is an LMS maroon, the color is generally correct, though some say a bit too light.  The designation is correct (5xP), and the length, the wheel spacing, the details, are all a bit more true to scale and less toy-like.  It always had a nameplate, in the typical BL/Winteringham style:  the border and letters engraved in a solid brass plate soldered on to the first splasher and then a heavy enamel paint filling in between the letters.

"Conqueror" did not, however, have boiler bands, and this was a failing which was corrected in the later "Victory" (see below).  The #5701 ALWAYS, to my knowledge, came with the earlier 16 spoke mechanisms, either AC or DC.  Also, the #5701 did not have a boiler tapered as well as either the Maerklin version or the later "Victory".  Another strange failing, considering that BL was attempting to make a better model than the first 5xP.  However, Bassett-Lowke points out in the catalogue description itself that a proper boiler taper is difficult to achieve in a model made with these materials.  It also was in some ways, and curiously, a simpler model in general than either the Maerklin 5xP or the "Victory":  It has fewer details overall.  It has no boiler bands, fewer lantern hooks, fewer handrails, and less detail in the painting on the buffer beams and elsewhere.

Finally, there is "Victory" #5712, first listed, along with "Conqueror", in the October 1938 catalogue.  These were listed together for the duration of their production, until the 1941/42 catalogue, but was pictured instead of "Conqueror" beginning with the fall 1939 issue.  It is the supreme 5xP according to BL's own advertising in the "Handbook" and in "Model Railway News", and frankly must be considered as such according to a non-emotional judgement:  It is as close to a perfect coarse scale model as ever made, and in many ways the epitome of what Bassett-Lowke strove to attain for so many years.  It is utterly complete and beautiful.  Compared to the 5701, it has a better color (exact LMS), perfectly placed boiler bands and lamp irons, a sharply tapered boiler which gives it a great look (the "Conqueror" looks bigger than a 5xP should), handrails on the back corners of the cab (as with the Maerklin version), handrails that were not so huge, a black painted reversing rod, a more detailed paint scheme than on "Conqueror", including detailed lining, and use of the more scale-like 18 spoke wheel mechanism, in DC, AC, and also in the wonderfully effective special speed controlled Clockwork version.  In general, this is a superior coarse scale model.

If we know anything about Bassett-Lowke hand made, hand painted models, it is that they were not biscuit cutter versions, and thus there were legitimate variations which originated at the factory.  Therefore, we must assume that what has been said here is certainly not all there is to know about BL 5xP's, or indeed that I have not made errors.  So, please, write to the Newsletter about any thoughts or knowledge you might have regarding these wonderful 5xP models.  Also, I would like to extend special thanks to David Burt and also Barry Potter and John Neale for their help and suggestions in preparing this article.

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