The sale of what generally is termed automobilia and petroliana has become such a significant part of the business of Mecum Auctions that the company came up with its own title for consignments — Road Art — and has made that term a registered trademark.
“It’s not big compared to the car business,” Mecum president David Magers said, “but it has a huge potential.”
Indeed. A stand-alone Mecum “Road Art” sale in 2016 accounted for nearly $10 million in sales, which is more than some collector car auctions generate. At that sale, a circular Musgo Gasoline two-sided porcelain sign sold for an astounding $230,000 at a Mecum sale.
Here at Mecum’s annual collector car auction in Kissimmee, Florida, more than 2,500 lots of Road Art, accounting for nearly 4,000 individual items, will be offered for sale starting Monday.
Consider that last year, Mecum sold 5,500 lots of Road Art in total, including 1,200 at Kissimmee.
“There’s a huge audience,” Magers acknowledged.
So large that at Kissimmee, Road Art gets its own separate auction block.
“It used to be sort of complementary to the auction,” Magers said of the way automobilia would be used to start the auction each day, to remind people sales had begun and to get them into the arena and into their seats.
Other collector car auction houses offer automobilia, most prominently Barrett-Jackson at its Scottsdale sale. Automobilia also is sold by a couple of major but non-automotive memorabilia auction specialists.
But just as it did with its Gone Farmin’ division that runs vintage farm tractor and implement sales, Mecum has established a separate Road Art department with its own five-person staff.
The effort is led by Dan Mecum, one of Dana Mecum’s sons, who also heads the Gone Farmin’ effort. Corey Brackmann, who joined Mecum right out of high school, went from the warehouse to the tractor auction team and now leads the Road Art division with a hands-on approach — at Kissimmee he was working to get the electric lights working on one sign — and a year ago Mecum recruited Melissa Smith to join the team after her 17-year-career as manager of a boat dealership.
Neither Brackmann nor Smith are collectors of Road Art, but both eagerly collect the stories about the items from those consigning them to the sales.
“It’s all history, all old Americana,” Brackmann said, adding that it’s not just auto related, but that collectors seek signs and other items from all sorts of businesses. On the Mecum docket at Kissimmee are three huge non-automotive signs — from the Brown Derby Restaurant, from the Wolf Cycle Shop and the Big Bear supermarket.
As with collector cars and automobilia, many such items were destined for scrapyards until someone appreciated them for their artistic and, yes, potential economic value.
While some car collectors also collect Road Art to decorate their garages and man caves or she sheds, Magers said Road Art also has its own group of collectors. I guess I’m among them. Though most of my “collection” involves books about cars, I do have some signs, photographs, toy and model cars (and salt and pepper shakers), a never-worn IMSA racing sweater, and several pieces of Michelin stuff.
After wandering around the various buildings and tents showcasing the Road Art here at Kissimmee, here are some items I’d be eager to add to my collection:
Oldsmobile Service sign (see above)
At nearly 5-feet in diameter, I’m not sure where I’d display this vintage Oldsmobile dealership service sign, but it’s oh-so-cool
Buffalo Gasoline globe
Standing only 15 inches tall, this Buffalo Gasoline globe would be much more reasonable in my recently downsized living quarters. Plus it could serve as an extra light source in the guest room/library. According to the American Oil & Gas Historical Society, Buffalo Oil was among the earlier drillers at the Spindletop field in Texas in 1902, but a second well was dry. Buffalo shifted to another site, at Batson, where fires destroyed its equipment and storage facility.
Phillips 66 Safety Pays license plate topper
There’s a huge collection of Phillips 66 Road Art that is part of the auction but there’s also a single lot of smaller items that includes a couple of little service station attendants, a ticket to a baseball tournament in which the company team was playing, and this Safety Pays license plate topper.
Phillips distance finder
Phillips larger collection items include three of these regional mileage finders. They were displayed in gas stations and even restaurants and provided the mileage between two cities on a dial you could move. I loved using these as a child when we’d take annual family driving vacations.
Vintage Michelin sign (above left)
Standing 6-feet tall but only 16 inches wide, this vintage Michelin porcelain sign would fit very nicely next to one of the tall book cases in my library/guest room.
This porcelain sign celebrates The White & Bagley Company’s Olizum brand of oils and lubricants, which was founded in 1888 in Worchester, Massachusetts, by F.W. White and H.P. Bagley, and was given the Oilzum brand name in 1905. The brand was popular with those racing at Indianapolis and those competing for land speed records.
Only 24 inches in diameter, this Sinclair Pennsylvania Motor Oil sign shares a wonderful tagline: “Mellowed 100 Million Years.” Sinclair’s mascot dates to 1933, when the company sponsored the dinosaur exhibit at the Chicago World’s Fair.
Refiners Oil Company 5-gallon rocker can
About the size of a snare drum, but with handles that not only hold it upright but keep it from rolling, these cans hold 5 gallons of oil that can be poured out with a built-in no-drip spout.
Frontier Gas sign
This is a large sign — 5 feet tall and wide — so it needs room, but I love the graphics, which me of my grandfather the prison warden and how well he rode horses; even after his retirement he was jumping fences on them. Frontier was founded in Ontario as Wainwright Refineries but the company moved to Wyoming in 1976 and changed its name to Frontier in 1996. A few years ago, it merged to become HollyFrontier Corp., a Fortune 500 company based in Dallas.