Fuel for Thought: This Petroliana Auction Is a Great Way to Get into Collectables

by Stefan Lombard
10 July 2024 2 min read
Fuel for Thought: This Petroliana Auction Is a Great Way to Get into Collectables
Photos courtesy Broad Arrow

It is not uncommon for auction companies to kick off many of their major sales with a session devoted to automobilia, though more often than not, post-sale coverage of those auctions tends to focus solely on the cars that come next. After all, who doesn’t love a record-setting Ferrari or an old MG with terrific history? Every so often, however, there comes a sale devoted exclusively to automobilia.

Such is the case with Broad Arrow Auctions, which has just announced an automobilia sale with a focus on petroliana – that is, the collectables associated with petrol stations and their products. Pieces can include oil cans, advertising, petrol pump globes, and even the pumps themselves.  

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The company’s 207-lot Online Petroliana Auction kicks off on 14 July and runs until the 28th, though the full catalogue is now available for viewing. Here are five pieces that caught our eye.

Lot 108: Large Michelin Man Figurine ‘Le Pneu Michelin’

Michelin Bibendum

Bibendum, the man made of tyres, was first introduced to the world in 1898 when André Michelin engaged cartoonist Marious Rossillon to create a poster depicting a faceless rotund man drinking from a chalice full of nails. Not exactly the friendliest character, but in time the face became more cartoonish, and today ‘the Michelin Man‘ is recognised worldwide. This standing forecourt display is made of fibreglass and stands 120cm tall.

Lot 111: ‘Happy’, the Esso Oil Drop Man

Esso Happy Oil Man

The Michelin Man’s appearance might have taken some time to warm up to, but that wasn’t the case with the aptly named Happy. Starting in the 1940s, he served as the personification of Esso’s “Happy Motoring” advertising slogan. Eventually Esso gave him a lady friend, and the two graced ads and trinkets together until 1959, when Esso’s new slogan, “Put a tiger in your tank,” took over. This figurine stands 120cm tall and looks positively gleeful doing so. 

Lot 217: BP Motor Spirit Union Jack Enamel Sign

BP Union Jack enameled sign

Enameled iron-plate signs trace their origins back to Benjamin Baugh of Salt’s Patent Enamel Works, Birmingham, who patented the process in 1859. By the late 19th century, such signage was ubiquitous, thanks in large part to the Chromographic Enamel Co. of Wolverhampton. The signs were used for street name plates, clock dials, door number plates, railway signs, advertising for any number of products, and much more. This enameled BP sign measures 150cm by 100cm and dates to around 1925.

Lot 227: Esso Fabric Forecourt Flag

Esso fabric flag

Founded in 1888 as the Anglo American Oil Company, a British subsidiary of Standard Oil, Esso got its start in the UK storing and distributing paraffin for oil lamps, and just a year later the company began distributing petroleum products throughout the country. By 1915, it had installed the nation’s first kerbside petrol pump. The Esso brand was launched in the US in 1926, finally to arrive in Britain and supplant the Anglo American name in 1934. At 300cm by 200 cm, this fabric forecourt flag is a big one that catches the eye.

Lot 269: Shell Petrol Pump

Several companies on both sides of the Atlantic manufactured petrol pumps to meet the demands of a growing motor industry, including French outfit Boutillon. This elegant Shell pump has been restored and appears to retain its original milk glass clamshell globe. It features twin five-litre glass cylinders with a hand-crank pump system. Not quite ready to dispense the good stuff anymore, but it certainly looks the part. 

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