I've lived in Arizona for 69 years (Tucson, Glendale, and Sedona). I love writing about Arizona history, antiques, books and travel.
Collecting Gas and Oil Advertising
Any person with a lick of common sense would collect stamps, glassware, fountain pens, salt shakers dolls, or a variety of other small antique and collectibles that can be neatly displayed on a shelf or a case or in an album. Who would want to collect items that are large, often dirty or rusty, have been riddled by bullet holes or take up a 9 ft. space, and the kicker is that the collector must be willing to spend hundreds of dollars on their collections. The crazy collecters of gas and oil advertising items (now commonly referred to as Garage Art or Man Cave Art) and sometimes Petroliana are growing in numbers and can be found all over the world.
From the time America became an automobile culture and then service stations became part of the automobile culture, recognizing the various refining company logos, colors and advertising became common place. Since producing high grade gas and oil became a major big bucks industry, refiners hired the best graphic artists and advertising agencies. The result was a stunning amount of interesting packaging designs.
Many collectors of gas and oil items, used to have some connection to having worked for one of the oil companies, or who had worked in or owned a service station or who had been a mechanic, or in the racing industry where most cars have a gasoline sponsor. Some collectors had a brand loyalty to collect memorabilia from the company that they had once been associated with such as Standard Oil of California or Conoco or Esso, or Texaco, but like all those who begin by collecting "just one thing" they soon found themselves seeking other "cool" items. Then, when advertising art in general became so popular, collectors of advertising soon were attracted to the gas and oil items, and since the idea of having garage art to showcase antique or collectible cars or to enhance one's man cave, major auction houses for collectors' cars such as Barrett Jackson, have begun including gas and oil items in their auctions. In the 1970s when my husband first began collecting, to see women buying gas and oil items was fairly unusual, but by 2000, the number of women buying gas and oil items became common. The result has been a dramatic increase in values, even in a downturn economy. Where buyers used to spend $300-$500 for a common brand sign, they are now paying $500-$900 for common brand signs. Often the smaller signs bring higher prices, due to the fact that they are easier to display.
Collectors attend gas and oil swap meets known as Gas Bashes around the country, and at one we attended two collectors and sellers from France were buying and selling. The largest Gas Bash in America, the Iowa Gas Bash, takes place in Des Moines Iowa during August. The Bash includes a Swap Meet and auction with hundreds of items available for sell. Some dealers make private sales during the event. Morphy's Auctions in Las Vegas Nevada specializes in Advertising, Amusement and Coin-Op and consistently offers top rate gas and oil advertising.
Texaco Neon Sign
What Items Do Gas and Oil Collectors Seek?
Gas and oil advertising signs seem to be the most popular item that collectors seek, followed by gasoline pumps of all types and the glass globes that sit on top of them, the early tins and bottles that were used to sell and pour gas, then the quart oil can that was introduced around 1932, and racks that were used to display the quart cans. The variety of other advertising items issued by the oil companies include: calendars, blotters, pens and pencils, key chains, maps, and tour aide guides. Service station attendants uniforms and hats fetch a pretty penny, and even the early hard plastic credit cards are collectible. The items that fall into the categories that service stations once gave away as premiums include: ash trays, glasses and china, banks, children's toys, booklets, wall art and trading stamps. Other advertising items for products sold in service stations such as tires, batteries, sodas and snacks are also considered part of gas an oil advertising.
Some of the first gas and oil advertising was produced on wood or cardboard, and some on tin, but the porcelain double sided signs were the most durable and have held their original colors.
Due to the popularity of gas and oil items, they are being widely reproduced. Some of the smaller gas and oil companies that produced very cool graphics, such as Polly with a large parrot and Seaside with it's ocean in a triangle have been used to create signs and pumps called fantasy items that were not actually produced by these companies, but might have been. Harder for collectors are those "contemporary" or "repops" that often fool collectors into thinking they have purchased an authentic item.
Three collectors magazines, Petroleum Collectibles and Check the Oil and Garage Art keep collectors informed on current values, gas bashes which are swap meets, and upcoming auctions for gas and oil collectors. These magazines include a want ad section and have interesting articles on collections, avoiding reproductions, and having items restored.
As with all antiques and collectibles, values are based upon rarity and condition..
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mactavers (author) on May 09, 2011:
Thanks Jill every year in April, there is a gas bash in Fontana called Roy Reed's gas bash. Every year there are some really great old gas pumps.
OC Jill from Orange County, California on May 09, 2011:
Cool! I love the gas pumps.