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How did vintage gas pumps become a favorite American collectable? Remember Standard Oil that became Amaco that became B.P.?  The evolution of the gas pump tells the story of American car culture. Vivid colors, vintage writing and old brands that have merged and moved on exude nostalgia and patriotism. 

At Garage Art, we sell a plethora of gas pump memorabilia including life size model pumps, gas pump gumball machines, beverage taps and signs. In this post we’ll explore the history of vintage gas pumps and why we’re so passionate about them! 

Early History of Gas Pumps 

The very first gas pumps were built by the Bowser Company in 1880 in Fort Wayne, IN. They were originally meant to serve as kerosene pumps for home use. S.F. Bowser noticed they could accommodate refueling of horseless carriages or early cars so he added a hose and nozzle to his pump model. 

By 1989, pumps could pull from underground tanks. The popularity of the automobile rose in a meteoric fashion in the roaring 20’s. In turn, gas pumps became ubiquitous to support driving Americans. They also served as key marketing tools for oil companies. 

Early tanks sported clear glass cylinders to pump five to ten gallons at a time. The idea was to provide transparency to customers since “dirty gas” was a big issue. Operators would use a manual pump to bring gas from underground into the 8-10’ glass cylinder. 

Next iterations of gas pumps were powered by electricity so operators didn’t need to pump gas manually. Consumers still wanted the glass cylinders. The new pumps included a clock face to keep track of the gallons pumped. The vendor would then calculate the amount due and charge the customer. 

By the 1930s, pumps got shorter and were powered by turbines making them cheaper to produce and move. Gas quality improved in the 20’s and 30’s and consumers began to trust the product more. Thus, the glass cylinders became obsolete. 

Gas pumps continued to evolve into the 1940’s but the illuminated globes remained as a lasting feature. Due to the lack of street lights, these globes not only served as marketing mediums, but also a beacon in the night for travelers desperate to refuel.  

Collectable Vintage Gas Pumps

Some of the most collectable pumps are the second generation pumps with the glass cylinder and clock face. According to Collectors Weekly, the most in demand gas pump collectables are those of the earliest iterations as well as models from the 1930’s and 1950’s. Many of the pumps from the 1930’s also sport decorative art deco logos and decals. By the 1960’s, gas pumps were modernized akin to the pumps we use today and became more boxy and plain. 

Two tips we emphasize for designing the best man cave are pick a focal point and incorporate thematic decorative items. Vintage signs either prints, metal or neon can serve both purposes. 

Vintage signage works in almost any man cave. Even for the sleek, modern bachelor pad, tastefully placed vintage pieces can add texture and personalize the space. 

At Garage Art, we have over twelve years of experience selling thousands of vintage signs to our customers. Here are just a few of our favorites: 

Ford Mustang: Greatest Car of 1969

Nothing screams Americana more than the Ford Mustang. The 1969 remodel year added more “heft” to the body and many Ford enthusiasts think of it as the hallmark iteration of the car. In 1969 Ford also introduced three distinct varieties of the Mustang, the Mach 1, Boss 302 and Boss  429. The Boss models were built to conform to Trans AM rules and garnered fame on the track and streets. 

Pay homage to the 1969 Ford Mustang with a print of the Boss 302 or a sleek Mustang logo neon clock

Chevrolet Chevelle Muscle Car 

The Chevy Chevelle’s production run from 1964 through 1977 reflects the pinnacle era of the American muscle car. Yearly design modifications reflected evolving tastes and desires of muscle car drivers. It was Chevy’s start in the battle of great American muscle cars. Sporting a relatively conservative design, the Chevelle is pure no nonsense horsepower. 

1969 was a bastion of the American muscle car. Arguably, the 1969 COPO Chevelle was the most sought-after and powerful Chevelle model. GM fans will love our Chevelle dream garage neon sign to don the walls of their very own dream garages. 

Ford Shelby Cobra 

The Ford Shelby Cobra was born out of pure love for racing. It tells a story of great American entrepreneurship and ingenuity. Carroll Shelby dreamed of building his own sports car even before embarking on his prolific racing career. In 1961, AC Cars in England announced they would stop production of their AC Ace Model due to obsolescence of the Bristol six cylinder engines.

Shelby saw this as an opportunity to marry the nimble body of the British AC car with the powerful American V8 engine. With the help of Ford Motor Company, Shelby took an engineless AC car and powered it with Ford’s 260 engine and the first Shelby Cobra was born in 1962. 

Racing fans and Ford fanatics will instantly level up their garages with the Ford Cobra classic neon sign

The idea of creating your perfect man cave is both exciting and overwhelming. It’s a place that’s uniquely you and the possibilities are endless. Is your man cave vibe modern and sleek? Nostalgic and rugged? Whatever it is you want your space to evoke, we have a few tips on how to level it up. 

1. Decide on a Focal Point 

PIck one or a few items to serve as focal points in your mancave. Every room has a focal point. However, in a man cave it can be more out there and creative than a wall painting or bookcase. At Garage Art, we curate the best vintage and modern neon signs that pack a punch for the perfect focal point for any man cave.

2. Include a Bar 

No man cave is complete without a bar. The type of bar will depend on the size and focus of your man cave. If you’re limited on space then include a bar cart or floating shelves with bottles and glasses. 

Curate your liquor collection with your personal favorites and the stuff your friends love. Make your bar look professional with all the necessary accoutrements such as a nice shaker, solid glasses and bitters. 

3. Textured Walls 

A well done textured wall adds character to any space. For a man cave, some of our favorite wall textures include brick, river rock and reclaimed wood. You can even get wild and make a textured wall out of an unconventional material like  baseball bats or bottle caps. 

4. Unique Gadgets and Decor Items 

Be selective when picking out your decor items. If you’re a collector and the space is meant to sport your model cars or Star Wars action figures, then display them in a way that shows them off! 

If you’re not a collector and need some decorative items to complete your space, then stick to your passions and color schemes. At Garage Art, our customers love our vintage gas pumps for adding an instant nostalgic touch. 

5. Games 

Your man cave should be a place where the guys want to hang out. A way to ensure that is to incorporate games in the room. Which games will depend on the space, budget and vibe. Darts are always a classic. If you have the budget and enough square footage, a pool table, poker table or vintage arcade games will be crowd pleasers. If you are going for a more sophisticated look, a nice chess set will add a classy touch. 

6. Repurposed Goods 

Some of the best man caves repurpose items that flow with the theme of the room. Examples include a Jack Daniels bottle as a soap dispenser, bar stools with baseball bats as legs and even bent wrenches as coat hooks. Your favorite things can provide utility, you just have to get creative. 

Pinterest can serve as inspiration for your repurposed goods project. If you don’t want to do it yourself try Etsy. 

You’ve always admired the nostalgic glow of a vintage neon sign and how it adds to the feel of your favorite hang out. Buying one for your man cave, garage or business can be the perfect touch for personalizing and leveling up your space.

Neon signs aren’t a regular purchase for most people. If it’s your first time where do you start? Use this post as a guide for making your best first neon sign purchase. 

Align with your Aesthetic 

What do you want out of your space? If it’s a business such as a bar, consider a classic alcoholic brand your patrons already love. Businesses also may consider creating a custom sign in their colors. 

For a personal space, decide what story you want your sign to tell. What are your personal passions? Is the color scheme important? A neon sign can serve as an anchor piece in your space. 

Is the space masculine, feminine or gender neutral? Neon signs aren’t just for guys in garages anymore. The neon sign trend is ubiquitous on Instagram as lots of millennial women have taken to this trend. 

Decide on your theme and aesthetic first to ensure you’re going to love it. 

Decide on a Budget 

Like most decorative commodities, the cost of a neon sign ranges. Prices typically depend on size, materials, quality of detail and availability. Naturally, custom signs will run you higher. 

A new 36’’ vintage logo sign typically runs in the $300- $1,500 range. Depending on the brand the price could be higher. Classic beer brand neon signs run a little cheaper, typically around $320 on average. 

Signs with less detail and fewer colors can start as low as $50. You also may be able to save by buying a used sign on ebay or at a vintage store. 

Neon signs draw a lot of attention and will be a focal point in the room. Don’t acquiesce and buy something you don’t love to save on budget. 

Consider Voltage and Care 

Consider where you will hang your neon sign. Outside temperature and voltage can affect the lifespan of your sign. A sign with higher voltage may burn brighter but its lifespan may be shorter. With the proper care, neon signs should last up to 15 years. 

Buy from a Neon Sign Retailer 

If you’re looking for a quality sign, buy from a specialized retailer. You can verify the authenticity and quality of your sign. Specialized retailers like Garage Art can also provide a wider selection of vintage and modern signs so you can find your perfect first sign! 




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