Gas pump globes or gas globes are undoubtedly one of the favorites, if not the crown jewel, of automobilia enthusiasts and petroliana collectors. It’s fascinating as well that the gas globe resembles a crown, or cherry, perched atop antique gas pumps. Beloved by the art-deco community, gas pump globes are as welcome in a non-enthusiast’s home as it is in a collector’s room. Sadly, their life as gas pump toppers and illuminators of dark sleepy highways was fleeting. Today, gas globes attract collectors and designers for their distinct shape and unique place in highway culture and American history.
Gas pump globes are hollow sphere-shaped glass signs that could be illuminated by an internal light source. Service stations used these glass signs in the first half of the 1900’s as an advertisement for their brand or products. The most common gas globe design was that of a metal ring where you could mount glass (and eventually, plastic) lenses on both sides. Although most were spherical in shape, manufacturers produced a variety of shapes and designs such as the famous clamshell of Shell fuel.
Vintage Gas Pump Globes
Service stations primarily used gas pump globes as a way to broadcast their brand and have it identifiable by drivers from a distance. Naturally, lighting during this period was nowhere as good as the light systems we have today. During long drives and sleepy commutes, gas globes were the only way for drivers to locate a nearby gas station via the light or glow that the globe would emit. Gas globes were literally beacons in the dark for hungry engines and tired motorists. Of course, this feature carried with it a good amount of brand exposure for the gas company.
The gas and highway culture of the period had a significant role in the birth of this quaint advertising tool. During the 1920’s, service stations and their equipment were painted with the brightest and most vibrant of colors, wherein bright red was a favorite. Around this period of color and dynamic design, the ornate gas globe was born, silk screen printed with the service stations brand and the promise of good quality oil, fuel, and gasoline. Due to the complexities of silk-screening, gas pump design was kept simple, often limiting a print to a few colors and straightforward art.
Behind the Gas Globe’s Run
Service stations utilized gas globes only during the 20’s until the end of the 50’s, partly due to their fragile nature, high cost, and mostly for the continuous changes made to the form and size of the gas pump. During this 30-year run, gas pumps slowly shifted from a fun, colorful, and playful aesthetic into a more utilitarian form.
Let’s start in the 20’s. During the 1920’s to 1930’s, both gas globes and bright painted colors were slowly becoming more and more popular. Hand pumps were still in use, and some gas pumps utilized the clockface design. Then, we see the service station fully embracing the art-deco style in the 30’s and 40’s. Colors were diverse, and they were everywhere. Gas pumps featured both clock faces and clear glass cylinders. Of course, the gas globe was ever present, with more color.
The next decade would usher the end of the curvy aesthetic and shift to a more squared off styling. Clock faces were now electronic, and glass cylinders have shrunk. Gone were the bells and whistles and by the 40’s and 50’s, the gas globe was last remaining décor on gas pumps.
By the time the 60’s arrived, gas globes have also become a rare sight. Gas pumps have adopted a more box-like style, now equipped with computerized systems that both measured consumption and price. So, If you think antique gas pumps are rare and highly valued, then the gas globe is even more so. Collectors place high value on these items and they are often the most expensive part of a service station collectibles set.
Gas Pump Globes for Sale
Due to their rarity, gas pump globes can be challenging to pass on when they present themselves. And why would you? You have to consider experience here. If you’re an experienced collector who has developed a keen eye for detail, especially in antiques and collectibles, sure, go ahead. However, if you’re a beginner collector, it may not be the wisest to choose to grab the first gas pump globe that comes your way.
First, you need to consider that gas pump globes will require more complicated fixes, specific installation, and skilled restoration. There are numerous tutorials and online videos on the subject so getting a good grasp and working understanding on gas globes shouldn’t take you too long. Also, never pass up learning directly from a more experienced and weathered collector, particularly those with sizable gas globe collection.
Second, dating and grading gas globes can be particularly difficult for beginners. Research on brands and their logos, as well as gas globe design according to time period will be essential.
Lastly, look out for and be wary of replicas. There’s nothing wrong with a replica in itself but some sellers, and even collectors, are not so forthcoming if a particular gas globe is a genuine antique or a reproduction
Rare Gas Pump Globes – Factors to Consider
When you’ve got a real antique gas pump globes in your hand, and you’re now thinking of adding it your collection, it’d be best to keep the following essential points in mind.
As with any other petroliana collectible, its value (at least for outside perception), will depend heavily on its current condition. Glass pump globes are notoriously fragile, so any ding or crank will slash a great deal of its desirability. Of course, you could always get new lenses if the ones you have are need replacing.
Sinclair, Texaco, Atlantic are among the favorites and rarest of the bunch. However, you can also get valuable items from other brands like Polly, Red Head, White Rose, and others.
Gas pump globes come in three different sizes. First is the Mini Gas Pump Globes. They’re approximately 9-inches tall and 8-inches in diameter with a 3-inch base. These Miniature globes were typically canteen-shaped and were used on smaller pumps.
The next size comes in the gas globes that can fit 13.5-inch diameter lenses. This size of gas globe are the most common ones you’ll encounter and are often the easiest fix when it comes to spare parts and lenses. Finally, the biggest gas globe size that can accommodate 15-inch lenses.
The much-coveted gas pump globe embodies Innovation, positivity, and creativity. It’s no wonder that collectors, historians, enthusiasts, and hobbyists look to this piece of American culture ephemera with wonder and nostalgia. It deserves a place in any home.