Musgo Gasoline sign – $1.35m (£1.2m) at Richmond Auctions.

Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

At Richmond Auctions in Greenville, South Carolina, on August 27 a record was set for any ‘porcelain’ sign sold at auction when a 4ft (1.2m) double-sided Musgo Gasoline sign in remarkable condition took $1.35m (£1.2m). The buyer, one of three bidders prepared to spend over $1m, was a US private collector paying $1,552,500 including the 15% buyer’s premium.

Musgo, a petrochemical firm located in Muskegon, Michigan, is thought to have traded for a matter of months in the late 1920s. Although the company logo, centred by a Native American chief, is much reproduced there are only an estimated 20 original signs known to exist.

Septic tank lids

The story goes that when the firm went out of business around the time of the Depression, a plumber bought the warehouse building and all the inventory inside. Most of the signs (which carry the name of the maker Veribrite Signs Chicago and the date 1929) found a practical use as serviceable septic tank lids, something that causes at least one side to decay.

This ‘never seen in public’ sign had escaped such an ignominy and was apparently recently found in an attic. Described as NOS (New Old Stock), it received an estimate of $100,000-plus and had been widely expected to beat the previous record for any enamel sign set at $400,000.

In a rising market, a number of British signs have made five-figure sums. The auction record is the £28,000 bid at Canterbury Auction Galleries in 2005 for the BP The Winner sign.