It pays to advertise, but investing in rare oil and gas company advertising signage pays even better.
That’s the conclusion that can be drawn from Morphy Auctions’ May 13-14, 2020, Automobilia & Petroliana sale in Pennsylvania, which achieved US$1.2 million in sales—20 per cent more than the overall low estimate.
“Market prices are stronger than ever, and interest in antique and vintage gas and oil memorabilia remains very strong,” said Dan Morphy, founder and president of Morphy Auctions. “Our team went above and beyond in this challenging time to accommodate all customers’ bidding needs with absentee and phone bidding, and more importantly, online bidding through Morphy Live, where we debuted live streaming, which proved to be a huge hit with our customers.”
A spectacular array of 530 premium-quality signs brought color and eye appeal to the 802-lot specialty auction, which featured several important collections, including a premier assemblage from Canada.
An elusive circa-1940s porcelain sign advertising Harbor Petroleum Products, of Long Beach, California, rose to the top of prices realized. Boasting 8.9+ condition, the high-gloss sign with an image of a Boeing 314 Clipper airplane coasting over water landed comfortably within its estimate range for $44,000.
A round, 30-inch-diameter Shell Aviation Gasoline porcelain sign had everything going for it: rarity, bright colours, and beautiful graphics, including a central clamshell. Very hard to find in any condition, Morphy’s example was graded 8.75+, with only minor chipping to the edge and no condition exceptions to the field itself. Estimated at $7,000-$10,000, it attracted 21 bids before settling at $20,910.
Yet another advertising classic touting the popular Shell brand was a two-piece shell-shaped porcelain neon sign measuring 61 by 54 by 6 inches and retaining all four of its original display brackets. It came to auction with a $9,000-$13,000 estimate and was soon off to a new owner for an impressive $17,220.
Many bidders competed for a neon sign promoting a West Coast company called Pacific Bait & Tackle. With Art Deco styling and letters that illuminate in four colors on each side, the sign’s focal point is a painted, neon-outlined fish that “leaps” from a neon-detailed body of water. This visual knockout sold near the top of its estimate range, reeling in $23,370.
The long list of coveted signs also included: a rare Wood Oils & Gasoline tin service station sign with a roaring-lion mascot, $15,990; an unflawed new/old stock tin sign for a Diamond T Trucks dealership, $10,455; and a “Get Badger Tires Right Here” tin sign with original wood frame, $7,995. Also finishing at $7,995 was a Mobil Gasoline porcelain cookie-cutter sign depicting the company’s flying-horse mascot “Pegasus.”
Thirty-five gas pumps and 46 globes found favour with bidders. A finely restored “Wayne 50” illuminating showcase gas pump with Super Shell one-piece cast globe, Shell side decals, and central glass shelving was entered with a $12,000-$20,000 estimate. It was bid to a healthy $17,220.
One of today’s most popular subcategories within the broad classification of petroliana is that of antique and collectible license plates. Morphy’s presented 30 extremely desirable examples, led by the unique porcelain plate emblazoned with the number “1” that was issued by the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1906. Unquestionably authentic and truly one of a kind, it was accompanied by an extensive archive of supportive documentation dating back more than a century to the plate’s original owner. Morphy’s catalog description noted that “only one or two other true first-issue #1s license plates [exist] in the USA,” a fact that added considerable cachet to the lot. After 14 bids, the license plate changed hands for $27,060.