Marathon of record-setting prices for rare petroliana at Morphy’s $8.1M auction of Bobby Knudsen Jr collection, Part II
Four lots, alone, sold for a combined $1.1M; top-lot Wasatch Gasoline sign commanded $324K
DENVER, Pa. – The energy was palpable at Morphy’s March 21-23 Automobilia, Petroliana & Railroadiana Auction featuring Part II of the incomparable Bobby Knudsen Jr. gas and oil advertising collection. Aggressive bidding sent prices to the Moon, with the four top sellers knocking down nearly $1.1 million. The three-day event containing 1,600 lots from the Knudsen collection plus other select consignments, chalked up a grand total of more than $8.1 million, inclusive of buyer’s premium.
“The sale was incredibly well received by both new collectors and veterans,” said John Mihovetz, Morphy Auctions’ Automobilia & Petroliana Department Head, who was instrumental in guiding the Knudsen collection to auction and cataloged its contents. “Prices ran hot throughout the opening session, which was devoted exclusively to Bobby’s collection, and dozens of new world auction records were set. But what impressed me the most was the vibe in the room. Everyone was happy, and there was definitely a feeling among bidders that they were part of a strong, connected community. There’s so much momentum in the petroliana hobby, now. Who knows what prices we’ll see in the fall when we auction the third and final installment of Bobby’s legendary collection?”
Native American iconography dominated the top 10 at Morphy’s March sale, with an extremely rare and visually compelling Wasatch Gasoline (Salt Lake City, Utah) double-sided porcelain service station sign outdistancing all others. Believed to be one of only two surviving signs of its type in the 48-inch-diameter size, it was the only one ever to appear at auction. Estimated at $75,000-$150,000, it rose meteorically through the ranks, finally settling at a mind-numbing $324,000 – a new world auction record for this sign.
Following closely behind the blue-ribbon Wasatch sign was a Mohawk Gasoline “down feather” double-sided porcelain service station sign. Its central image depicts a Native American with the feathers in his braided hair worn in a down position (hence the “down feather” description), denoting a pre-1925 production. It was authoritatively described in the auction catalog as one of only four known examples of the earliest porcelain advertising used by the historic San Francisco brand. Against a $100,000-$200,000 estimate, it was chased to a record-setting $312,000.
Yet another Mohawk Gasoline sign that sent a ripple of excitement through the gallery was a circa-1930s neon production showing the iconic Native American brave with an upright feather in his hair. A glossy, high-grade example in excellent working order, it sailed past its $80,000-$130,000 estimate to close at $192,000.
A sign that was especially dear to native Idahoan Bobby Knudsen’s heart was the finest Idaho Chief Gasoline double-sided porcelain sign ever to come to auction. With its vivid colors and artful image of a Native American chief in a full bonnet, the huge (72in diameter) circa-1940s sign was bid to a record-setting $138,000 – no small potatoes against an estimate of $50,000-$90,000.
A circa-1940s Smith-O-Lene Aviation Brand Gasoline porcelain service station sign crossed the auction block with a noble pedigree, having been part of not only the Knudsen collection but also that of Bobby’s good friend the late Kyle Moore, who was a pioneer in the petroliana hobby. The double-sided 48-inch-diameter round sign with a gorgeous airplane graphic at its center was originally issued by WD Smith & Son of Texarkana, Texas, to regional outlets in Texas and Arkansas. It was the highest-graded example of the few known to exist and glided past its $100,000-$200,000 estimate to land at $252,000 – yet another world-record auction price.
Aviation was also the theme of a very scarce Ace High Gas & Oil (Minneapolis) double-sided porcelain service station sign. Executed in crisp red, white and blue and emblazoned with the image of a single-engine plane, it ascended to $84,000 against an estimate of $20,000-$35,000. A Sinclair Aircraft Gasoline porcelain service station sign with early airplane graphics, estimated at $7,000-$14,000, claimed a surprising $50,400.
A visual homage to the wide-open spaces and unique culture of the western United States, a 48-inch Frontier Gasoline (Denver, Colo.) double-sided porcelain sign with the image of a cowboy on his rearing horse was, as its slogan states, “Rarin’ To Go.” The 1954 circular sign represented one of only a handful of its type known to exist. It was off to the races from the moment it was introduced by Morphy Auctions president and principal auctioneer Dan Morphy and didn’t stop till it reached $204,000, more than twice its high estimate.
No one watching the proceedings could have missed the neon trend. One sign after another outperformed at Morphy’s, including a rare and complete Ford Jubilee sign, $165,000; an incredible Chevrolet Super Service sign, which more than doubled its high estimate at $96,000; and a Polly Gas parrot-mascot sign, which flew to $78,000.
Scores of other signs surpassed their high estimates, including a new/old stock Husky Motor Oils tin service station sign featuring the company’s appealing dog mascot, $79,950; while a restored Martin & Schwartz Model #50 cash recorder gas pump rang the bell at $66,000, more than five times its high estimate. The top-selling gas pump globe lens was a fine 1930s production advertising Red Hat Royal “400” Gasoline, which surpassed its high estimate at $39,600.
“We could not have been more pleased with the way this sale went, and bidders must have agreed, because right after the last lot sold, we were being asked about Part III of the Knudsen collection, which will serve as the centerpiece of our September 29th through October 2nd sale,” said Dan Morphy. “It will be our final auction of signs from Bobby’s fantastic collection, and we’re expecting the event to be a real barn-burner.”
To discuss consigning automobilia, petroliana or railroadiana to Morphy’s fall sale featuring Part III of the Bobby Knudsen Jr collection, or any future auction at Morphy’s, please call toll-free 877-968-8880 or email [email protected]. All enquiries are kept strictly confidential. Visit Morphy Auctions online at www.morphyauctions.com.
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