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Francesco Biaggi : A Life Dedicated To Tinplate Toy Trains

By Bruno Wernli



1. A Short Biography of Francesco Biaggi

2. Technology

2.1 Materials

2.2 Manufacturing Process

2.3 Motors

2.4 Engines

2.5 Colors and Inscription

3. GEM Gauge 0 Production

3.1 Traction Vehicles

3.2 Cars

3.3 Initial Packings

3.4 Accessories

3.5 GEM Production Ended

4. Gauge 0 Models

5. Gauge 1 Marklin Replicas

6. Gauge 1 Models

7. Other Projects

7.1 1:25 Scale Models

7.2 Special Preparations

8. Bibliography

9. Acknowledgements

1. A Short Biography of Francesco Biaggi

Francesco Biaggi was born 1910 and died in 1995 at the age of 85 years. Biaggi's birthplace and residence before 1940 are unknown. Biaggi appears to have lived for a long time in Milan, Italy at the via Ciro Menotti 7.

There is evidence that Biaggi had made drawings for train models as early as the 1930s. In 1945, at the age of 35, Biaggi created a registered company under the contraction GEM (see footnote 1.) The letters stand for Giocattoli Elettro Meccanici. Under the trademark GEM an extensive selection of gauge 0 tinplate trains were developed. Biaggi himself was responsible for locomotive and cars designs and also for GEM catalog designs.


Precisely how long and how successfully GEM products sold is not well-known. Interesting, however, is the fact that in the year 1945 there were three Italian companies offering gauge 0 tinplate trains. Together with Biaggi there was Armando Ravasini operating under the name Elettren, and Fage. Models of the E 428 and FS 691 were offered at the same time by Biaggi and Elettren. Fage and Biaggi used the same coupler. Probably all three companies shared materials provided by FEM[see footnote 2.] FEM offered track, switches and accessories in gauge 0.

The initial demand for GEM products was so strong that Biaggi had to expand his range. Based on his existing manufacturing capabilities, a number of model locomotives were developed in gauge 0 and 1. However, by about 1950 demand for new products waned. The GEM brand disappeared even though Biaggi achieved a certain popularity over the border, particularly in Switzerland and in Germany, where Biaggi products were popular with operators of existing tinplate layouts in gauges 0 and 1. Therefore, it's not surpising that Biaggi began to manufacture Marklin replicas, which he did very successfully. 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.


[1] Georges Ernest Merli used also the contraction GEM for his company, with production dating from 1950 in Marseille, among other things, for the company Dressler (KD)

[2] FEM means Ferrovie Elettriche in Miniatura. FEM was also a Milan company.

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