WHAT: Collecting old gas station signs and oil can displays from bygone eras, along with all kinds of visuals related to cars and gas stations, is a big deal for fans of nostalgia. Their passion is called "automobilia" or "petroliana," and it is driven by memories and visual appeal. Signs rule, though anything from vintage gas pumps to gum dispensers (often found in stations) are a go.

For serious money, collectors demand rare items in good condition. When a private collection of more than 400 lots came to auction at Morphy's recently, rare and unusual items brought serious results. Top sale was $66,000 for a 48-inch diameter Red Hat Royal 400 sign in top condition. Presale estimate was $35,000 to $50,000.

MORE: Condition played a big role in the result. Descriptors in the catalog such as "gloss," "color," "super clean" and a graphic "free of wear" spoke to bidders. The sign's large size was another plus.

SMART COLLECTORS KNOW: Just about anything old and vintage appeals, from candid photos to advertising. Anyone can indulge, from a youngster with less than $10 to spend on car ads clipped from old magazines to the Texas buyer who surrendered $33,600 for a porcelain sign for Houston Gasoline with Sam Houston on horseback, also in the sale.

HOT TIP: Of course, price varies on where and how items are sold. Scan completed sales on eBay and other online auctions for examples of automobilia and petroliana offerings.

BOTTOM LINE: Unusual and rare items that garnered top prices included an extra-large Marathon Gas & Oil porcelain sign featuring a runner ($22,800) and a globe lens with an aviation theme for Aerio Gas ($28,800). A Red Crown Gasoline & Motor Oil display thermometer brought $5,228.

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