I am – or at least I was – an Oil Brat. My Dad was in the Oil business with Mobil and Esso in East Africa and then Shell in Europe. His particular skills were in the Marketing of petroleum products and he rose to be a respected member of the UK team in the 70’s and 80’s in London. He was based the iconic Art Deco Ernest Joseph designed “Shell Mex House” (SMH) at 80, The Strand below the clock on its southerly aspect we, as older kids, used to watch fireworks rise above the River Thames.
SMH was built in 1930-31, is now home to Pearson Plc, but for me it was a voyage into the an earlier era. Like its neighbour the Savoy Hotel – pre-refurbishment – SMH had wonderful touches reminiscent of the interior of the Empire State Building (started and completed in the same years as SMH) with guided column and wooden details that sing of a time when the costs of employing a craftsmen were not prohibitive. Beautiful use of new materials with curves and details that were simply beautiful
On the walls of SMH were examples of art that had been commissioned by Shell for use in poster campaigns – featuring legendary artists such as Sir Cedric Morris, Paul Nash and Vanessa Bell – who were hired by Shell’s then (circa 1932) Advertising Manger, Jack Beddington, who consciously supported several artists’ careers. An truly great era when wonderful design was king.
However, for me there was an equally interesting area that fascinated me and which time has shown to become a highly collectable area – that of automotive art. This include the glass “trophies” that sat on top of Shell petrol pumps for several years from – at minimum – the 1930’s to 1970’s.
The first fuel dispenser was patented by Norwegian John J. Tokheim in 1901 – who’s name still appears on pumps at forecourts of filling stations around the world to this day. From around 1915 so-called “skeleton pumps”, which were often very tall, started to feature the branding of the company selling the fuel in a glass globe sitting on top of the pump. Its thought they were tall to act as a beacon to passing motorists offering available fuel.
The 1920’s and 1930’s were characterised by the need to be seen with enamel signage and globes becoming more attention grabbing. The 1950’s and 1960’s – in many ways the heyday of enamel and glass signage – led to a redesign in petrol pumps which by the 1970’s no longer incorporated these classic globes.
Our featured image shows a moulded glass petrol pump globe – classic white clamshell. Often these were marked “Property of Shell-Mex and BP Ltd” “Returnable on Demand”.
Mine is an original dating from, I believe, the mid-1960’s and its going no where! However, I do know of someone making economical reproductions – let me know if there’s interest?
Image use with kind permission of http://www.petroliana.co.uk