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Market for Automobilia (Collectible Car Stuff) Heats Up

Culture, Lifestyles  /   /  By Nina Russin
This vintage Union 76 Gas Pump has a Buy-It-Now price of $14,000.

This vintage Union 76 Gas Pump has a Buy-It-Now price of $14,000.

Automobilia refers to any collectible related to classic cars, from posters and dealer brochures to magazine ads, original shop manuals, hood ornaments, antique gas pumps, pedal cars, and road signs. Posters, period photography, antique gas pumps, and signage are a great way to dress up your garage, while your car’s original shop manual and paint chips are valuable resources if you do your own mechanical work and restoration.

As with classic cars, it’s important to know that the items you are purchasing are authentic. “Prices are increasing exponentially. Demand has been fueled by reality shows such as American Pickers, ” Rory Brinkman, automobilia director for Barrett-Jackson, told eBay Motors. “In addition to the traditional automobilia collectors, we are now seeing people who want to decorate their garages or folks who see these items on the reality shows and have become interested.”

Rising Values

The image at the top of this page shows automobilia getting auctioned at a Barret-Jackson event. In 2015, when Barrett-Jackson auctioned off Ron Pratte’s collection of motorcycles, antique cars, and automobilia, a Harley-Davidson dealership sign went for more than $86,000. In June 2016, Morphy Auctions sold a porcelain Champlain Oil Products sign for $76,250, while a Kelly Tires 42-inch sign went for $94,550. At the 2018 Scottsdale auction, Barrett-Jackson sold a Husky Motor Oil double-sided porcelain sign with husky dog logo for $149,500.

“Porcelain neon signs are a hot segment,” Brinkman said. “People like the looks of them. With the lights turned down the reflection of the neon on a car creates a mood.”

The collection of pedal cars on eBay Motors is especially fun to peruse. They include hot rods, F1 racers, and classics like this rare, restored 1930s American National Ford Roadster.

The market for pedal cars that peaked in the late 1990s has been slightly depressed, making this a great time to invest. When Barrett-Jackson sold 66 pedal cars from the Ron Pratte collection in 2015, the average price was about $8,500. At the most recent Palm Beach auction, nicely restored pedal cars from the 1950s were going for $800 to $1,500.

1935 pedal car

1935 Ford Roadster pedal car

More affordable items, such as collectible oil cans and tin signs from the 1970s, can sell for as low as $50.

Here are a few tips to consider when buying automotive antiques:

  • Know the seller. According to Brinkman, the recent boom in the automobilia market has given rise to fake fantasy pieces, so it’s important to know that the dealer you are buying from has a good reputation. eBay trust ratings are helpful in that regard. For pricey items, most auction companies have experts on hand to verify authenticity, so the buyer knows he or she is getting the real thing.
  • Do your homework. It’s a great idea to research the history of the items you are considering. This can be helpful (and fun) for the pedal cars that became hot collectibles in the mid-1990s. Companies that produced pedal cars beginning in the early 1900s include Cyclops, Steelcraft, Whitney Reed, Lines Brothers, and Butler Brothers.
  • Consider the condition. While new-old-stock dealer signs and gas pumps can go for big bucks, items showing some “patina” are more affordable. In many cases, it’s possible to do cosmetic restoration at home, making them perfect for display in your home or garage.
  • Look beyond the obvious. eBay Motors has a huge and varied supply of automobilia. There are obvious categories, but if you’re resourceful, you can also find hidden gems—such as vintage car and motorcycle ads in period magazines. Some items might have limited resale value but great potential for brightening up your garage.

Automobilia is a fun way to expand your car-collecting passion, turning your favorite part of the house into a Garage Mahal.

About the Author

Nina Russin is an ASE certified automotive technician and writer who has been covering the automotive industry for 30 years. She was a weekly automotive columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times for 10 years, and a contributor to AutoWeek, Automobile Quarterly, Collectible Automobile, Cycle World, and AAA Arizona Highroads Magazine. Russin is co-founder and president of Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year, an annual competition.

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