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The History of Petroliana

What Is Petroliana?

Petroliana is a term used for antiques related to gas stations and the oil business. Memorabilia in this category include items such as old gas pumps, fuel advertisements, enamel or tin signs, oil cans and tins, and road maps. These items have always been a collector’s dream, especially when you get to talking about major names such as Mobil and Texaco.

Where Did It All Begin?Old fashioned Texaco gas station on Route 66.

In the 1880s, the Bowser Company in Fort Wayne, Indiana built the very first gas pumps which had pumps that could pull fuel from an underground source. The earliest pumps were not located at gas stations as they are today. Instead, they sat at dealerships, along sidewalks or at curbs. It seems odd, but that’s how it was!

It took until the 1920s to see these gas pumps popping up everywhere when owning an automobile became more and more popular. At this point, the gas pumps that were popular were called “visible” gas pumps. The point was that the vehicle owner could actually see if the gas they were pumping into their car was clean or not. Contaminated gas was an issue in this era.

Popular Names


In the 20th century, Mobil was the brand we now know with the Flying Red Horse. Some of the most popular collectibles bear the red pegasus but don’t count out those with the brand name or red gargoyle. All Mobil oil and gas items bear some collectibility.


Texaco was founded in 1901 after a major oil strike at Spindletop near Beaumont, Texas. The logo we know with the red star with a green capital “T” inside it first appeared in 1909. The name of the company, however, didn’t become Texaco until almost 50 years later. It was known as The Texas Company for the longest time. The green “T” inside the red star in the logo can help to date some Texaco pieces. The 1915 pieces took on the more familiar “T” with the base of the letter mortised by two of the star’s inward-pointing edges.


In 1901, Shell Transport and Trading Company of London decided on a mussel shell to become their logo. Perhaps it was a nod to the homophone for the word, muscle. But by 1904, that shell choice had been changed to a scalloped design, as it was more aesthetically pleasing.  It still represents the company today. Pieces can be dated back to the 1930s and 1940s.

Interested In Seeing Some Pieces?

Then come down to Back N The Day Antiques! We’d be more than happy to help you find what you’re looking for. One of our own, Tony, grew a love for petroliana when he was young. His father owned a gas station in which Tony and David both worked. If you’ve got any questions, we’re the ones to ask! Antiques related to gas stations and the oil business are pretty popular items. Don’t hesitate to find what you’re looking for.

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