8 March 2011

Art of the service station

In the 1940s and 1950s, oil companies produced a wealth of items now eagerly sought after by collectors.

Not that many years ago, there were service stations on the corners of almost every major intersection. Service was not just an idle term, as nattily attired attendants greeted motorists as they filled the car with fuel, checked the oil and cleaned the windshields. It certainly was a far cry from today’s world.

Competition was severe and the stations attracted customers not only with exceptional service but bold and dramatic advertising. Multicolor porcelain signs displayed the company logo and illuminated glass globes proudly sat on top of the majestic gas pumps. Even the oil cans were often striking as this was the era prior to the age of mass advertising, and impulsive point-of-sale decisions were often made based on the distinctive graphics.

Many items the early motorist required were often free for the asking. Road maps were distinctive with interesting covers in hopes that the traveler would keep them in the glove box and stop in again at the same station. Ink blotters and matches were given freely, and promotions that involved items such as salt and pepper shakers in the form of gas pumps were frequent.
 
Today, die-cut figural porcelain signs can sell for as much as $20,000, and early brands such as Sunset, Mohawk, Paragon and Ace High are extremely desirable. Items from the Roxana Shell facility in Illinois cause a frenzy when they are offered due to their distinctive logo, while the Mobil “Flying Red Horse” has an equally committed following.

The early gas pumps, such as the Art Deco Wayne 50 with display cabinet, are now worth around $10,000 and, while frequently over restored, they make a strong statement in a “car barn” or recroom. The colorful glass globes can get pricey in a hurry. For example, a Musco globe with the colorful Indian in full headdress can easily push five figures. Of course, more common ones can be obtained for a few hundred dollars, but reproductions abound.

Glassware, playing cards, name badges and mechanical pencils are just a few of the other items that are very collectible, especially when a collection is focused on a particular brand.

Service with a smile may be a thing of the past, but many of the reminders of that service live on with a group of committed collectors.

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To see this article in its original format, view the pdf version of the Spring 2011 issue of Hagerty magazine

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