Gasoline, oil signs driven to the top of the collectors' market
Collectors go to Barrett-Jackson and/or Mecum car auctions to get their classic vehicles and along the way they are also snatching up gasoline, oil and service station signs.
Auctioneers say these signs have gone from the mid- and low-end to the top of the market.
What does that mean for collectors? They must be aware of the physical conditions that may push a sign to the top end or down to the bottom.
Lesser quality signs are appealing to buyers because they are not so expensive and are a nice investment or addition to a collection.
Right now, the hottest thing in Sarah's Uniques and Jim's Mantiques antique mall in St. Charles is anything gasoline- and oil-related, and folks come from miles away to buy.
"I can't keep gas and oil signs in, " said Jim Kieffer. "Even my gas pumps fly out of here."
Kieffer said he is always buying and selling porcelain and tin signs and only sell originals, no reproductions.
"I guarantee all my signs to be original. Yes, they are a pricey item to collect, but look great in a garage, pole shed, or outside the house or barn," he said.
The price for signs depends on condition and rarity as well as age and type.
Large neon gas station signs have gone up to $500,000 and are top collector items, next to vintage porcelain and tin gas station signs.
As a shop owner, Kieffer tries to have range of metal and neon signs for any collector of gas and oil, feed and farm items.
Buyers must be aware of the condition and type of sign.
"Sometimes if a sign is missing too much, it's too hard and costly to restore", Kieffer said. "Rarity is another important factor. The rarer and better the condition, the value is obviously more. Many people like the original patina on a sign. I would then recommend just washing and cleaning it up good."
More information on signs and tip to help you pick like a pro are in "Picker's Pocket Guide, Signs" by Eric Bradley and "Mantiques: A Manly Guide to Cool Stuff," by Eric Bradley.
Sign can be found online and at shop and garage auctions, estate sales, some at flea markets, car swaps and auto auctions.
"It would be fun to say that most people could find one on a great Sunday afternoon drive, but those days seem to be far and few between," Kieffer said.
Sandy Erdman is a Winona-based freelance writer and certified appraiser concentrating on vintage, antique and collectible items. Send comments and story suggestions to Sandy at [email protected] .