Vintage Gas, Oil, and Service Signs

While some cities today have a gas station on every corner, complete with huge signs illuminating a variety of multinational oil giants’ slickly produced logos, the industry was a whole lot different when the car began its rise to prominence in the early 20th century.

Before automobiles were widespread, gas stations were extremely rare, generally doing business only in larger cities and on the busiest highways. Gas stations often performed service and repairs, while gasoline was also sold in drugstores and elsewhere. For awhile, lubricating oil and fuel oil were easier to find than gasoline.

In the 1910s, the market began growing, as did the competition, especially among lubricating oil companies. The first signs advertising lubricating oil appeared in grocery stores and were produced in a variety of materials: baked enamel, sheet steel, and tin. Designs on tin signs were printed using lithography while designs on sheet-steel signs were screen-printed.

These signs allowed a store to tell its customers which automotive products and brands it sold, which, in turn, lured customers inside. The signs were often clever and engaging. One particularly rare sign by Oilzum Motor Oils and Lubricants, for example, featured an attractive graphic of a man in a hat, along with this tongue-in-cheek slogan: “If Motors Could Speak we wouldn’t need to Advertise.”

In the 1920s, gas stations became more common, as did gas pumps, which spawned a new type of sign called the pump plate. Pump plates were affixed to the pumps that indicated and advertised the pump’s brand of gasoline. The plates came in a variety of shapes—round (or “hubcap”) and otherwise—and a wide range of sizes, from as small as five inches across to more than a foot wide.

Often created by the Burdick Sign Company of Chicago, these signs were generally made out of porcelain, which lent them both attractive visibility and impressive durability in almost any weather. Porcelain signs remained common through the 1950s, despite a decrease in production during World War II.

People collect signs bearing a variety of company names, though the most coveted are often the smaller, regional brands—Signal, Gilmore, and Wilshire, with its distinctive Polly ...

Aside from plate pumps, some people like to collect “lubesters,” which were the signs attached to oil and grease dispensers. Other collectible signs at gas-and-service stations were warnings—“No Smoking Stop Motor” signs, for example, are one popular niche within this category. Finally, some of the rarest gas-and-service signs are those used at marine and aviation stations.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Advertising Antiques

Advertising Antiques

This classy looking British site features hundreds of high resolution photos of antique porcelain pre-war (enamel) … [read review or visit site]

Primarily Petroliana

Primarily Petroliana

Jim Potts’ site for petroliana collectors, featuring image galleries and community features such as a discussion … [read review or visit site]

Historical Marker Database

Historical Marker Database

If you're the type who pulls over when you see a 'historic marker ahead' sign, you'll love this site. Orchestrated … [read review or visit site]

Petroliana.co.uk

Petroliana.co.uk

Alan Chandler’s impressive collection of early British and European petroliana, including galleries with beautifu… [read review or visit site]

Petromobilia Switzerland

Petromobilia Switzerland

Alex Wyler’s site is mostly in German, but the collection and images speak for themselves. You’ll find old gas … [read review or visit site]

Falvo Collectables Gallery

Falvo Collectables Gallery

Ralph and Carol Falvo's excellent collection of automobiles, petroliana, jukeboxes, soda, and general store items. … [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Large Rare Vintage 1930s Cushman Motor Scooter Motorcycle 73" Metal Gas Oil SignLarge Vintage 1957 Wolf's Head Motor Oil & Lube 59" Embossed Metal Sign~niceVintage 1966 Ford Dealer Lighted Sign Not Neon Or Porcelain , Gas Garage DisplayLarge Vintage C.1950 Nash Car Dealership 2 Sided 75" Neon Porcelain Gas Oil SignVintage 1920's Indian Gas 2 Sided 44" Porcelain Metal SignVintage 1940's Phillips 66 Gas Station 2 Sided 30" Porcelain Metal SignVintage C.1940 Veedol Motor Oil 2 Sided 22" Porcelain Metal Flange Sign~niceRare Vintage 1920's Apex Motor Oil 2 Sided 20" Porcelain Metal Sign1922 Duesenberg 8 Porcelain Dealership Sign"no Remake",gas & Oil Ad,rare,34"x13"Double Sided Texaco Motor Oil Porcelain Display Oil & Gas Sign! No Reserve!Large Vintage 1940's Ferguson System Ford Tractor 60" Metal Gas & Oil SignVtg Mopar Pam Advertising Lighted Bubble Clock Gas Chrysler Oil Sign Ford NeonVintage 1930's Phillips 66 Gas Station 2 Sided 30" Porcelain Metal SignVintage 1950's Chief Garden Tractors Gas Oil 2 Sided 18" Metal Flange SignVintage 1950's Aaa Approved 2 Sided 30" Porcelain Metal Gas Oil Sign~niceVintage Mobil Car-care Pegasus 12" Metal Thermometer Pam Clock Co Sign WorksAntique Porcelain Opaline Motor Oil Automotive Sign Gas Station Sinclair Dino Vintage 1949 Fram Framflex Motor Oil Filter Lines 20" Metal SignVintage 1951 Champion Spark Plugs Gas & Oil 38" Porcelain Metal Sign~niceAtlantic Aviation Motor Oil Tin Wood Framed Sign Early Gas Like Porcelain RareVintage 1940's Porcelain Prestone Anti Freeze Oil Gas Station Thermometer SignVintage Porcelian Enamel Lubrication Sign Coca Cola Gas StationLarge Vintage 1950's Autolite Batteries 60" Embossed Metal Gas & Oil SignVintage 1940's Goodrich Silvertowns Double Sided Porcelain Sign No ReserveVintage C.1930 Imperial Marvelube Motor Oil 20" Porcelain Metal SignVintage 1960 Pioneer Chain Saws Du Pont 15" Metal Gas & Oil Sign~niceVintage 1970's Mopar Chrysler Dodge Engine Care Gas Oil Embossed Metal Sign1953 Vintage Porcelain S&h Green Stamps Sign Grocery Gas Oil Retail Store Old NrRare Vintage Original Porcelain Valvoline Motor Oil Sign Gas Station AdvertisingVintage Original Fisk Tires Flange 25" Porcelain SignFord Sales Service Corner Long 3d Sign Pony Shelby Boss Truck Mobil TexacoVintage C.1950 Auto-lite Spark Plugs Gas & Oil Ford 30" Metal SignVintage 1970's Mopar Chrysler Dodge Shock Absorbers Gas Oil Embossed Metal SignRare Early Vintage Phillips 66 Motor Oil 1 Quart Metal Can SignVintage 1940's Porcelaen Goodrich Silvertowns Double Sided Flange SignVtg 40's Ac Spark Plug Gaskets Auto Display Parts Cabinet Gas Oil Sign SparkplugMint 1930s B/a British American Motor Oil License Plate Topper Sign Canada CanVintage 1920's Standard Oil Red Crown Gasoline 2 Sided 28" Metal Flange SignOld Porcelain Sign From Shreveport Ice Service, Shreveport LouisianaDreadnaught Tire Chains Tin Sign 1920'sVintage 1940's Sinclair Oil & Gas Company 26" Porcelain Metal SignVintage 1940's Prestone Anti-freeze Gas Oil 37" Porcelain Metal Thermometer SignOld Texaco Porcelain Sign 19.8" Oil Gas Station Advertising Enamel Pump Can UsedLarge Vintage 1951 Pennzoil Motor Oil 58" Metal SignRare Texaco Porcelain Gas Pump Sign 1935Vintage 1940's Prestone Anti-freeze Gas & Oil 22" Embossed Metal SignVintage Porcelain Prestone Antifreeze Thermometer Sign Gas Oil Engine Coolant Vtg Firestone Tire Sign Oil & Gas Station Metal Advertising Ratrod Garage Tin1920s Hood Tire Porcelain Gas Station Sign,8x18,original,heavy/not Dated,rareLarge Vintage 1920's Purol Gasoline Pure Oil Co 2 Sided 48" Porcelain Metal SignDiamond Porcelain Sign Mobil Sunoco Phillips 66 Atlantic Arco Texaco SinclairVintage Mohawk Gasoline Porcelain Gas Pump SignVintage Visible Gas Pump Price Box Sign Gravity Feed Gasoline Station NrRare Good Shape Porcelain Sinclair Pennsylvania Motor Oil Gas Sign !!Rare! N.o.s. 1950's Gulf Supreme Motor Oil License Plate Attachment Topper SignVintage 1940's Texaco Sky Chief Gasoline Gas Pump Plate 18" Porcelain Metal SignVintage 1950's American Credit Cards 2 Sided Gas Oil 36" Metal Porcelain Sign Nice Rare! Double Cola Sign Door Push Soda Embossed Gas Station Oil Malt Shop Large Vintage 1920's Major Gasoline 2 Sided 60" Porcelain Metal SignWhite Rose Large Reproduction Porcelain Dealership 2-sided 36" Gas Oil Sign