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News Article  
Auction’s wares conjure old gas station memories
By Barb Van Loo

TECUMSEH, Mich. — At a recent auction held by Dan Sherman (D S Auction Service & Antiques), bidders had the opportunity to bid and buy items ranging from baby-face milk bottles to visible gas pumps.

Visible gas pumps were created in the 1920s. They were very tall with a transparent glass tank at the top of the pumps. The consumer would select the grade and amount of gas he wished to purchase; this gas selection would fill the glass tank allowing the consumer to see the amount and color of the fuel. The grade of the gasoline was indicated by the color of the gas selected. Glass bowls were affixed to the top of the pump and lit up allowing the gas company to advertise their brand.

Two of the best-known names among these early pumps were the Fry gas pumps and those made by Tokheim. Fry gas pumps were made from the 1920s until the 1960s. The earliest of these were the Fry Mae West visible models made in the 1920s. The company producing Tokheim pumps was named after a Norwegian, John J. Tokheim. In 1898, Tokheim designed an exterior storage system that allowed him to accurately meter the amount of fuel being delivered, and in 1901 he patented the first fuel dispenser.

There were several collectors who were anxious to add one of the visible gas pumps to their collections. A green Fry pump crossed the block for $2,600, and a red one that had dispensed Texaco gasoline earned a final bid of $2,300. Pumps that had been used to fuel cars with Shell gasoline sold for $1,350 and $1,200; a Tokheim pump earned $1,225; and a green visible gas pump that once held White Crown gasoline crossed the block for $1,325.

Most gas pumps are pretty much the same now. One has to look at the sign on the station to know which brand you are purchasing. In the past, the pumps sported glass globes with the name of the gas proudly displayed.

Collectors were there to add these to their collections: A Cities Service globe earned $140; a glass Shell globe saw $200; and a globe for Hancock crossed the block for $175. The globe that advised “Roar with Gilmore” sold for $110; a Sinclair globe saw $200; and Marathon “Mile Maker” globe saw the hammer fall at $170.

Oil now comes in a disposable plastic container. This is handy for the person who is changing the oil, whether at the dealer, the local fast-change oil place, or by the do-it-yourselfer in his/her own backyard. In the past, oil changes were usually done by the service guy at the gas station, who frequently drew it into a small container from a large storage barrel reusing the cans or bottles used for this purpose. A set of six of these bottles, complete with their metal spouts, and tin metal carrier sold for $260; while a Standard Oil Polarine bottle earned $85.

For the collector of signs, there was a variety from which to choose. A flanged double-sided AAA Emergency Service sign sold for $95; a double-sided Wolf’s Head oil sign dated 4/74 saw $170; and a large DeKalb double-sided sign crossed the block for $85. A Texaco motor oil sign dated 8/36 sold for $100; and a vertical U.S. Tires sign earned $215.

Neon signs included a brightly colored Las Vegas sign that sold for $220; a Red Indian motor oil sign that saw $200; a neon sign for Shell gasoline that crossed the block for $145; and a Texaco gasoline neon sign that earned a final bid of $180. There were many more signs for other gasoline companies, beer companies and cigarettes.

Several pieces of furniture were available for the bidders, including a variety of tables, chairs and chests. Among these a china cupboard with drawers and cupboard areas on the bottom sold for $175; a marble-top half table ready for one’s home crossed the block for $150; a pair of his and hers wood chairs with upholstered seats and backs saw $200; and a tabletop Victrola earned $85.

One of the desirable clocks had graced a wall of the Blashill jewelry store in Marlette, Mich. This clock from the small town in the “thumb” area of Michigan sold for $175. Also selling for $175 was the one advertising Zippo lighters.

There were several toys from which to choose, including a doll swing by Ansco that sold for $65; a tin garage and gas station that saw $85; a tin toy truck with the inscription indicating that it was a Healthy Milk truck, which earned $135; and a red Texaco truck that crossed the block for $95. A Coca-Cola pedal car saw a final bid of $145. There were many additional trucks of all sizes and colors that found new homes.

There were many other items in a variety of genres that found new owners, including an Evinrude Fleetwing that sold for $100; a three-shelf egg rack that saw $125; and an Enterprise sausage press with all necessary parts that earned $75.

Fire extinguishers included the old glass ones filled with fluid. The ones filled with red, yellow, and brown liquid sold for $45 each, while the one with blue crossed the block for $100. A large brass fire extinguisher, The Quickening, earned a final bid of $90; while a small brass fire extinguisher sold for $50.

The items cited represent just a small portion of the items that crossed the block at this auction. There were also several coins for the coin collectors; milk bottles for the bottle collector; railroad lanterns for the railroad enthusiast; pottery, porcelain, and china pieces; and jewelry, including gold rings for anyone who likes to sport a nice piece of jewelry. All prices quoted are the hammer price and do not include the buyer’s premium.

For additional information or to contact the auctioneer about upcoming auctions, call (517) 424-7653 or email