Mecum Road Art auction offers barometer on automobilia market

Mecum brings its Road Art automobilia auction to Wisconsin for the second year, offering a diverse selection of vintage car-related items.

After a stunning $7.5 million total at last year’s auction, can this weekend’s second Mecum Road Art Fall Preview surpass that success?

In a word, laughed auctioneer Dana Mecum: “No.”

Which is not to say that this year’s Elkhorn, Wisconsin, auction – which features a wider diversity of items and overall larger catalog – will not be successful. For the buyers at this largely no reserve auction, there may even be a few steals.

Dana Mecum moved his Road Art auction to a larger venue | William Hall photos

“Last year’s collection, from a single collector, was incredible,” Mecum said. “This year, we have a bigger variety of items – with lots of ‘smalls’ that are easy to ship – so I think we will have a good showing from internet bidders.”

By my casual accounting at Wednesday’s auction, nearly 75 percent of the lots were being sold to internet bidders over bidders in the room. The pace was quick, with bid increments of $25-$50, as lots were hammered sold under the watchful eyes of the Mecum auctioneers and bidder staff.

Bidding for Road Art continues through Saturday.

While the previous year’s collection followed brand themes, the Road Art Fall Preview includes anything and everything. In addition to the usual neon and porcelain signs, lots include dealership posters, display racks, clocks, thermometers, gas globes, gas pumps, giant movie posters, jackets, toys, parking meters and road signs.

A rare Musgo Gasoline sign is expected to draw strong bids

“Soda Saturday’s” catalog offerings feature an impressive collection of soda fountain, ice cream parlor and restaurant signs, and premiums.

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A 4-foot diameter, two-sided Musgo Gasoline porcelain sign hopes to catch some of the magic – if not the underbidder – from last year’s superior example, which sold for a stunning $230,000. These Indianhead-logo signs from a Michigan gas station chain are extremely rare, given that the chain was sold to a septic tank manufacturer and the round porcelains happened to make ideal sewer tank lids.

Corrosive sewer gas destroyed or marred many, and this one wears a scar on one face of the sign. Nonetheless, it’s a great conversation piece from one of the more interesting stories in automobilia, and it is still expected to be one of the top sales results.

A driving-school simulator from the 1970s

Overall, there are many great patinated pieces in the four large display halls. My eyes were drawn to a wonderfully faded Kaiser Frazer dealership sign with a temptingly low estimated value. Another unique piece was a driving-school simulator booth, fashioned from a ’70s-era Dodge seat, wheel and dashboard.

A large, framed Peugeot dealership lithograph hung just below an Evinrude dealer sign, both unique pieces. Massive framed movie posters, some 9 feet wide, were hard to put in scale from the catalog photos.

This year’s Road Art Fall Preview also has a different venue. Previously held at Mecum’s Badger Street Auction Facility just down the street from Mecum’s headquarters in Walworth, Wisconsin, the auction now takes place at the Walworth County Fairgrounds in Elkhorn. The bigger display area and parking lot was needed for the ever-expanding Road Art operation.

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The actual auction block is in a historic octagonal cattle-auction building on the fairgrounds, which lends to a nostalgic atmosphere.

Besides, it’s an easy commute for boss Dana Mecum, who lives 20 minutes away.

“I was late this morning,” confessed the affable auctioneer, coming off a grueling monthly schedule of major auctions across the country. “Getting out of a hotel bed to go to work is no problem. Getting out of your own bed to go to work can be a challenge.”

The Mecum Road Art Fall Preview Auction runs through Saturday. For information, visit the auction website.

Photos by William Hall 

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