They call them mantiques. These are the collectables that blokes like. Boofy stuff like old petrol pumps, rusty signs advertising petrol and, yes, vintage detonators.
Most collectors have a classic car or motorcycle in their large, climate-controlled garage space. Mantiques are used to decorate this man cave. This category has been around for 20 years or so but has taken off recently because of shows such as American Pickers, American Restoration and Auction Kings on the 7mate channel.
American Pickers is the original: "I'm Mike Wolfe. I'm Frank Fritz. And we're pickers." That word describes those who like to dig through junk shops, wreckers yards and old barns in search of rusty gold. American Pickers first screened in the US on the History Channel in 2010, and now attracts up to 5 million viewers a week. It attracts a cult following of local viewers. What is also known as "garagenalia" has been a part of Shannons classic-car auctions for more than 10 years, with consistent results in that period, although national auction manager Christophe Boribon says prices have escalated in the past three years.
Since Pickers has been on air, more people are saying, "yeah, I've seen that show, and I wouldn't mind having a shed like that one". Traditional garagenalia includes service station oil racks, enamel signs for automotive suppliers and vintage petrol pumps. More recently, parking meters and drive-in speakers have started to appear at Shannons auctions, selling for prices that will amaze those who don't live in man caves.
At Shannons Winter Classic Auction, held in Melbourne on July 1, a traditional silver parking meter mounted on a stand sold for $1050. That's more than four times the $250 lower estimate. Others in this category included a New York Supply Co. blasting detonator, which sold for $1200.
You can blame Mike and Frank for popularising vintage industrial equipment. The strongest result of the night was for a Gilbarco Electric Double petrol pump in Golden Fleece livery, selling for $5500. A rare Ampol vertical format enamel sign showing signs of age sold for $2600. Both results came in well above original estimates.
Collectors happily pay extra for examples showing defunct Australian brands of petrol. They want brands they can relate to, Boribon says. Golden Fleece, with its gold merino symbol, is most prized of all. The fibreglass or plastic ram statues that once sat on top of the bowsers lit up at night are especially treasured. Most restored pumps now have a reproduction ram on top. Pumps are used primarily for display purposes. The older ones, from 1910 to 1920, are usually too tall to fit in a normal garage. The shorter 1960s pumps have another advantage: they can be converted to a bar fridge. In October 2012, Shannons held a stand-alone garagenalia sale, featuring the contents of a warehouse accumulated by a private collector.
Everything sold, with exceptional results for a service station oil rack holding 10 rack bottles of Energol oil with metal pouring caps that sold for $2450. A neon sign showing the classic Mobilgas flying horse logo sold for $4600, and a 1930s-style pump, also promoting Mobilgas Super Plume, sold for $6100.
The surprise was a pair of 1950s drive-in speakers mounted on the original column, which sold for $1400. These have now taken off as a mantique, which must please those astute collectors who had the foresight to pick them up for junk prices when all those drive-in cinemas closed in the 1970s. Shannons sold another pair of speakers in July for $900. The next Shannons sale is on this Sunday, July 21, as part of MotorEx in Sydney. Mantiques play a smaller part than usual in this auction, but Golden Fleece enthusiasts should be after a Wayne electric pump in blue-and-gold livery, with repro merino on top. Estimates are $3000 to $4000. Sorry, bar fridge not included.