“The world of enamel signs is like football and this sign is like Manchester United. It's in near-perfect condition and is a remarkable survivor. What were once considered scrap metal are now being seen as the works of art they really are.”
These were the words of a Yorkshire private collector of advertising signs after paying £28,000 (plus buyer’s premium) for this early 20th century enamel motoring sign at the Canterbury Auction Galleries on June 14. The previously unrecorded image produced for British Petroleum measures 3ft 6in by 2ft 3in (1.07m x 69cm) and shows a racing car passing the finishing line with the legend The Winner “BP” The British Petrol”. Few signs of this calibre have come to auction in recent years.
The vibrant image had belonged to a Broadstairs gentleman who lived with his select collection first in a flat in Fulham and, upon retirement, in a bungalow in Herne Bay. Canterbury auctioneer Anthony Pratt made the discovery when he was called in to conduct a probate valuation earlier this year. He had estimated the sign at just £400-600. The collection also included a 4ft 4in by 5ft (1.02 x 1.52m) sign depicting a British super-dreadnought on an Admiralty floating dock being coated with Suter Hartmann’s Rahtjen’s antifouling paint. Against the same lowly expectations, it was sold for £10,500 – a similar price to another version of this sign sold in Australia earlier this year.
While £28,000 appears to be a record for an enamel sign, the price is dwarfed by the $85,000 paid in 1990 for a Campbell's Soups painted tin advertising sign by Standard Advertising Company, Ohio with 52 red-and-white cans forming the stripes of a stylised American flag.