You’ve seen the shows on TV. Two blokes from Iowa rummage around barns and pull out old Indian motorbikes and signs for Mobil Oil. In the UK we have Henry and Sam, not taking it so seriously, blagging old oilcans plus the odd, unfortunate lawnmower.

You might think it’s just rusty junk bought by crusty blokes with a life membership to CamRA. A decade ago that stereotype might have prevailed but things have moved on. Really fine items of Petrolania and Automobilia are worth some very fine money.Whilst my own sordid collection of such things fits into the category best described as fire sale, I thought I would show you some items for your garage shelf that are not only desirable, but worth considering as a fun alternative to the 0.2% interest on your ISA.

Enamel signs can demand £100 to £300 for a relatively simple piece. Go upmarket and very quickly you can be in the thousands. Signs are driven by their visual appeal. The value depends on condition, colour and rarity, but condition is the premier factor. A quality example of an enamel sign can bring five figures. Restored signs that may have been touched in or repaired will fetch less than an honest original. Repeat the mantra; Condition, colour and rarity. It applies to just about everything from petrol globes to oil cans.

Petrol globes start in the hundreds and go up. In March this year a rare Speedwell globe sold with commission for a sniff under £10000. It’s not a one off occurrence, other perfect original condition globes can and do fetch more. There’s a market for copies to adorn your petrol pump as opposed to the precious real one. Copies tend to be made of heavier glass. The originals are light and delicate. Condition is crucial. Cracks and chips in the glass deduct value.

Ranging from pints to gallons, oil and petrol cans come in a diverse range of shapes and sizes and are propelled by a seemingly insatiable market. Pyramid cans are one example that consistently realise prices in the hundreds to the thousands. For top money it should be complete, with correct cap, and handles if fitted. There should be little or no rust, no holes, no dents and perfect square sides. ( cough, condition, cough)

Oil pourers are a perennial favourite. Think of a simple Castrol pint oil jug from the seventies. You can pay anywhere up to £80 for one. How about a Shell oil pourer from the twenties? If it has good colour and script, and is in perfect shape you will be paying in the hundreds.

At this point you may be thinking this is madness and the prices are out of your league. I know, most of the time they are for me too. Five years ago when I first started going to auctions the prices left me repeatedly whining ‘How much?’ five years later all those prices have continued to climb and now I don’t whine so much as whimper. The Coronavirus has not affected sales either. A recent auction held on line showed plenty of interest and lots of sales with an excellent early Shell oil jug selling for a beyond estimate £800

Local fairs and autojumbles can prove a happy hunting ground for like items that are not so presentable. You can find a bargain item on a well known internet site but it’s not often. Prices for average items will usually be over inflated.

The quality pieces you see here are all from a specialist auction. Richard Edmonds Auctions in Chippenham, Wiltshire, regularly holds dedicated auction sales featuring some of the finest items available. It’s a great choice if you are buying with an eye to investment, or for bragging rights with your mates. It’s a good place to get a handle on the market and see a range of pieces. There are always items in the sale you can pick up for tens of pounds rather than hundreds or thousands. Not everyone wants something from the nineteen thirties and there are potential bargains in signage and material from the eighties onwards. Later items make sense if you want some trinkets for your garage wall to honour your Suzuki GSX or your 205 GTI.

Beaulieu holds a spring and summer weekend fair that draws traders and their wares from all over Europe. A top tip is to check out the Trunk Traders field on the Sunday. This is the domain of amateurs, and ordinary folk clearing out their sheds. You can find bits here and have a haggle, although you should know that the traders get first dibs before the public so really fine items have usually already been snapped up.

Most importantly, buy what you like not what you think you should have. Oh, and if you do decide to splurge on any of the items I’ve shown here, make sure you lose the receipt before the other half sees it.

*images from Richard Edmonds Auctions 2017 to 2019

  • Notwen pyramid can £2160
  • 21″ Mobiloil conical can £500
  • Stepney Tyres sign original condition £11760
  • Austin Dealership lightbox £5040
  • 1918 Triumph model H £9184
  • 1931 2litre supercharged Lagonda £118160


About The Author

Steve Swanson

Steve turns any opportunity to write about cars into a roadtrip. It's seen him ride shotgun in a Bentley Blower with Clive Cussler, and cross paths with automotive YouTubers in Canada and the US. His work has been published in Magneto, Classic Cars, Classic American and some magazines that no MotorPunk reader has ever heard of. When he's not writing or driving you can find him kicking tyres at seedy auctions and hawking junk optimistically described as Automobilia

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