Lara Knight – 23 May, 2019
As the world heads deeper into ride sharing, electric cars and robotic transport, interest in auto history is booming. Grease-covered relics from farm sheds and old garages trade in an increasingly global market.
Head of automobilia and petroliana at Morphy Auctions in Denver, John Mihovetz, says the obsession is now multi-generational with collectors ranging from 20 to 90 years old.* New collectors love graphic vintage advertising. Big money collectors are bidding close to 6 figures on rare original condition finds and full restorations. With brands differing from region to region, and items ranging from oil caps to petrol bowsers and station signage, there is a buy-in for everyone.
Telis Sahinidis from Gas Art in Melbourne turned a collecting hobby into a business. We asked him a little about the industry.
What is the difference between automobilia, petroliana and garagenalia?
I’ve always believed Automobilia and Petroliana are sub categories of Garagenalia, being the generic term used for anything collectible that belongs in the garage. Petroliana being oil/petrol/gas memorabilia and Automobilia being automotive/motorcycle/truck memorabilia.
How did you get started on the collecting path?
Always had an interest in history, and a professional career in retail I suppose led me to an admiration for vintage petrol related advertising. Bought one oil tin around 15 years ago and as they say ‘the rest is history’.
How has auto collecting changed in the last 10 to 20 years?
Definitely has been an increase in popularity in particular with auto lovers as they seek to recreate a nostalgic ambience in their garage/man cave. Certainly easier access to products via social media has stimulated this growth. We can also see designers/architects incorporating industrial design within new developments.
Do in-demand items and brands change from year to year?
Most in demand brands have remained popular for years and can’t see any significant changes yearly.
What’s currently at the top of collector lists in Australia?
Regarding petroliana, Golden Fleece items have definitely become popular. Why? Aussie icon, great colours, legendary logo (ram), accessibility. Regarding automobilia, Holden gear has seen an increase in demand mainly due to the company scaling back its manufacturing.
What sort of items do you bring in from overseas?
Signs, oil tins, bottles, bowsers, toys, vintage automotive displays, oil storage cabinets etc.
Describe a couple of your most exciting finds.
I believe anything found is exciting as it can be preserved for further generations. Hard to select ‘most exciting’, however there’s one item picked last year that was special. Having traveled to England in 2018 to organise a shipment, I was told of a rare vintage ‘Shell Stickman’ cabinet that was found in Wales. I had to have it. After making contact through a friend of a friend, I couldn’t resist hunting this relic.
The journey to a remote town in the centre of Wales was as exciting as my first glimpse of the end product. This relic was found in an attic of a farmhouse. After driving 7-8 hrs, I had lost phone connectivity but recalled photos sent earlier of the surrounding environment. In due course, I managed to pinpoint the location and eventually found it, paid it, loaded it and headed off to the local inn. Now I have this piece in my collection and will perhaps one day restore it.
Do you have a personal collection or does everything go to the shop?
My shop had its beginnings from my collection. Started around 15 years ago, my private collection consists of oil tins, oil bottles, ephemera, signs and smalls: from all corners of the world. I’m regularly adding and upgrading my collection.
How is Gas Art adjusting to increased competition?
Business will always have competition and the ability to stay ahead and adjust is imperative. Our industry is fragmented, there is no market leader or dominant player. Social media, whether it’s Gumtree, Ebay, Instagram, Facebook etc have certainly increased the reach of our goods. On the other hand, this platform has increased competition by providing new entrants easy access to buyers. Competition also arrived from auction houses, flea markets and auto swap meets. Continual improved customer service, diversified stock and offering reasonable prices is the key to success.
Do you have any predictions for future collectables from Tesla and electric vehicle manufacturers?
I believe there’s always going to be an interest and fascination for automobiles. On that account, I suggest start stockpiling Tesla etc advertising.
* Revving Up the Market For Automobilia and Petroliana, Journal of Antiques and Collectibles.