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Biaggi Scale Models/Giocattoli Elettro Meccanici

GEM Biaggi logo


Francesco Biaggi 'O' scale Etat Franz Dampflok ME 66/12921, SPUR 1 Francesco Biaggi (1910 - 1995) was known as a master custom model builder of model trains in multiple scales during the post World War 2 era. He initially focused on creating and marketing train sets in 'O' gauge and OO/HO that were somewhat toylike and targeted at a young audience. Later in his career he produced steam outline and electric outline locomotive models that were more detailed and scale-like, with demand driven by his adult customers. Fine-scale replicas of British, French, Swiss, German and Italian prototypes were made in limited runs. Biaggi also produced some American prototype models, including a Challenger, Commodore Vanderbilt and a Hudson. The Challenger loco was produced in extremely small numbers, primarily for wealthy customers. In addition to producing his own line of trains, Biaggi reproduced Märklin trains as well. Production took place in Milan, Italy at the via Ciro Menotti 7.

Biaggi 1 gauge Crocodile Electric Locomotive There is evidence that Biaggi had made drawings for train models as early as the 1930's. In 1945, at the age of 35, Biaggi registered the company name GEM. The letters stand for Giocattoli Elettro Meccanici which, in English, translates to 'Electro Mechanical Toys'. Under the brand GEM an extensive selection of 'O' gauge tinplate trains was developed. Starting in 1947 HO/OO scale trains were added to the GEM line. Biaggi himself was responsible for locomotive and car designs and also for GEM catalog designs. In addition to displaying the model trains and accessories, GEM catalogs also featured model boats.

In 1945 there were two other Italian companies offering 'O' gauge tinplate trains - Armando Ravasini operating under the name Elettren, and FAGE. Models of the Italian Railways FS Class E 428 Electric Locomotive and FS Class 691 Steam Outline Locomotive were offered at the same time by Biaggi and Elettren. FAGE and Biaggi trains employed the same type of coupling mechanism. It is likely that all three companies shared materials provided by FEM (Ferrovie Elettriche in Miniatura). FEM was an Italian company that offered track, switches and accessories in 'O' gauge.

Biaggi 'O' scale loco elettrica FS E428 Ansaldo Biaggi 'O' scale 3-rail electric FS 4-6-2 Locomotive and bogie Tender circa 1948

Biaggi 'O' gauge #6433WB 13 inch CIWL baggage car The GEM Biaggi 'O' gauge locomotive line up in the 1950's consisted of the FS 691 4-6-2 Pacific, the D 121 2-4-2, a TK 121 2-4-2 Tank Loco, and the low end PT 0-4-0 steam locomotives, the FS E 428 electric with its 4-4-4-4 wheel configuration, an EN 315 2-6-2 electric, the EC 121 2-4-2 electric, and the EB 0-4-0 electric. Also catalogued were a 3-car automotrice ET/3 and a 2-car ET/2 automotrice railcars. These locomotives operated on 20-volts electric current. 'O' gauge 8-wheel passenger cars were offered in 2 lengths - 16 inch or 13 inch, in the form of Fourgon baggage or luggage vans, sleeping cars, restaurant cars, and passenger vans. They were decorated for either Italian, French, German or Swiss Biaggi 'O' gauge GEM Tinplate Carro-cisterna NAFTA Italy #30310n-1e Tank wagon with brakeman's house railways. Shorter, 7½ inch 2-axle passenger vans were also catalogued. The 'O' gauge freight car lineup featured a roster of mostly 2-axle 8" wagons consisting of open goods cars, wine vat flat cars, box cars, flats with special loads and tank wagons. Some with brakeman's sheds, and some without. The only 8-wheel (bogie) freight wagons offered consisted of tank cars and a lumber car with brakeman's sheds. An assortment of trackside accessories and buildings as well as both 3-rail and 2-rail track and turnouts was also catalogued.

Biaggi 'O' gauge #18620V FS goods van Biaggi O gauge #20630V FS Italian Railways Box Van with Watchman's Shed

Francesco Biaggi introduced his OO/HO scale trains at the 1947 Milan Toy Fair. GEM OO/HO trains came packaged in very colorful boxes adorned with art-deco style imagery on the lids. Freight sets were offered with a steam loco, tender and anywhere from 2 to 6 wagons. Initially the trains were only offered as sets, but eventually were available for separate sale. The initial track system used by GEM trains consisted of 4 rails and was referred to as the Biaggi System, as printed on the transformer top. Another maker of OO/HO trains, COS.MO of Milan, also adopted this 4-rail system. This was a small family run artisan manufacturer of OO/HO scale trains, mostly well known for the models they produced for Rivarossi. In the Biaggi system, the leads of the electric motor's inductor coils were fed AC power from the two inner rails, while the ground was supplied by the two outer rails, which were not isolated from each other. Eventually this system was abandoned and the trains were built to run on 3-rail tracks similar to the pre-war Märklin 3600, but with the side rails made of brass and the central rail made of steel alloy.

Biaggi OO GEM M4 Prairie Type 2-6-2 Steam Locomotive circa 1950's

Biaggi OO Mogul-locomotiva 1-3-0 circa 1950's GEM OO/HO Locomotive styles consisted of a 2-4-0 Porter type, 2-6-2 Prairie type (2 versions), and 2-6-0 Mogul, all made of cast zamak. These were all free-lance locomotives, of Italo-Teutonic inspiration. Locomotive direction reversing was enabled via a manual lever located on the boiler behind the stack. Only the GEM A5 locomotive was equipped with an electronic direction reversing mechanism. The locomotive drivers were cast in zamak at first, but later replaced by steel wheel sets.

Biaggi OO GEM #16300 Shell tanker Biaggi OO GEM #16320 Eagle Oil Company tanker Biaggi OO GEM #13700 Flat car with oil barrels

GEM OO/HO freight wagons were of the 4-wheel short European design. Wagon types included flats, tank cars, and gondolas. The flat cars carried various loads, but were notably famous for carrying model automobiles of popular Italian made vehicles. The GEM coupling mechanisms fitted to these cars were unique, but were compatible with Märklin couplers from the 1940's.

Biaggi 'O' scale 4-6-6-4 Challenger loco The initial demand for these GEM products was so strong that Biaggi had to expand his range rapidly. Based on his existing manufacturing capabilities. However, by about 1950 demand for new products waned. The GEM brand disappeared completely by 1955 even though Biaggi achieved a certain popularity outside of Italy, particularly in Switzerland and in Germany, where Biaggi products were popular with operators of existing tinplate layouts in both gauges. Biaggi then began to manufacture Märklin replicas. The demand for his replicas developed, as the manufacturing capabilities (CNC machines, production of punching tools by means of spark erosion) permitted Biaggi to manufacture low-priced genuine copies in sheet metal. Biaggi produced trains in the spirit of Märklin, and they look very similar. Around this time, a small number of more detailed model locomotives were developed in both 'O' and 1 gauge. Francesco Biaggi was now producing trains exclusively in 'O' and 1 gauge under his own name.

Biaggi 1 gauge 3-rail electric Britannia-class Flying Dutchman circa 1950's Unfortunately, Biaggi trains tend to suffer from zamak warpage/shrinkage problems as a result of impurities in the metal used to cast the parts, which means that many of the locos have been destroyed as time took its toll. Production was also very low, not performed on an industrial level, which makes these items very rare and highly sought after by collectors. Despite being produced in Italy, it is very difficult to find Biaggi trains being offered for sale in that country. Evidently it is easier to find Biaggi models being offered for sale in Germany and Switzerland, but always with expensive price tags.

Biaggi creations include an Italian State Railways Pacific FS691 in 1 gauge, a German State Railways Standard 01 Pacific Class in 1 gauge, a Crocodile in 1 gauge, a British Rail Tornado Pacific in 1 gauge, a Britannia-class Flying Dutchman in 1 gauge and a model of the "Cock 'O The North" P2 2-8-2 in 1 gauge with its faithful functioning Lentz valve gear. He also modeled the 4-8-2 French "Etat".

Biaggi trains are rarely seen in the United States.

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