Written by Nicole Ellan James
Picture this: You are driving your brand-new Model T along a long, dark stretch of highway. You pass a speed limit sign and look down to check how fast you are going. You note that your speed is perfect – but your fuel level is low. You start to panic. What happens if you run out of fuel on this dark, desolate road? How long would it take someone to pass by? Would they stop and help you? After what feels like an eternity passes, a glowing orb appears in the distance and relief begins to wash over you.
In the early 1900s, lighting on the open road wasn’t the best, and when drivers were low on fuel, they sought out glowing globes atop gas pumps; they became beacons of light meant to keep drivers on their way. Those gas pump globes also afforded product identification for drivers at a distance, with over 1,000 brands utilizing the illuminated marketing tool. Each displayed the brand’s logos and colors – sometimes they were even crafted into unique shapes like crowns or other figures, such as the famous Shell clam.
Some of the earliest gas pump globes were called “one-piece baked” or “one-piece etched” globes, depending on how they were constructed. The globes were generally made of milk glass with painted faces, or the glass was etched or cast and then painted to feature the gasoline brand it would represent. Most of the earliest glass globe lenses were hand-painted, meaning over the years they could flake or fade. The process was later perfected by screening the image and baking it onto the reverse side of the lens, giving the back of the lens a rough, sandpaper-like surface.
Despite the wide variety of globe types, they were generally made from a metal ring with a lens mounted on either side, although one-piece glass globes were used in the 1910s through approximately 1930. Most gas pump globes have 13.5-inch or 15-inch lenses. Gas pump globes were used through the late 1950s, but after World War II, pumps started getting smaller and, by the 1960s, globes had all but disappeared from gas pumps.
“Collectors have long prized gas pump globes as colorful, unique accent pieces in their garages or places of business,” said Barrett-Jackson Automobilia Director Rory Brinkman. He added that his favorite modern-day use of a globe as décor is to turn the center lens upside down and mount it to the ceiling as a light fixture.
With these globes growing in popularity among collectors, their values have also been escalating over the last seven years. An incredibly rare 1930s Musgo Michigan’s Mile Maker globe sold at the 2022 Scottsdale Auction for $57,500, while a highly-sought-after 1940s Husky Hi-Power Gasoline gas pump globe in pristine condition sold for $17,250 at the 2019 Scottsdale event. Other significant sales include a 1940s Husky Gasoline globe that went for $23,000 at the 2018 Scottsdale Auction, as well as a rare 1940s Frontier Gasoline “Rarin to Go” globe that hammered sold for $18,400 at the 2015 Scottsdale Auction.
The 2023 Scottsdale Auction, January 21-29 at WestWorld, promises to offer over 80 original eye-catching gas pump globes to entice spectators and guests of Barrett-Jackson’s Automobilia Auction. Included in the sale is an extremely rare 1940s Westland Buffalo Gasoline globe, and a magnificent 1920s-30s Marathon Hi-Test Gasoline globe. Register to bid today and let them light up your collection like they once lit up the road.