Earlier this year, a woman phoned Pauline Blakely to tell her about the time she, her mother and three siblings took a road trip to Mesa to visit family.
Driving an old, beatup car with little gas and even less money in their pockets, the family barely made it to Blakely Brothers’ Service Station in Gilbert, the first of a chain of stations started in 1937.
Charles Blakely — Pauline’s late husband and the youngest son of the company’s founder — filled up the gas tank for free. He also gave the family some Western-themed glassware.
"She said she would never forget Mr. Blakely," said Pauline, an 81-year-old resident of Surprise.
Fond memories such as these have helped turn Blakely glassware and china into a popular collectible among Valley residents. The dishes used to be given free with each purchase of 10 gallons of gas during the 1950s and early ’60s.
"It’s a history of Arizona," an avid collector once told Pauline.
The frosted glasses, a set of eight embellished with different varieties of cactuses, are the most recognized and the easiest to come by. Susan Cook, owner of Antique Plaza in Mesa where Blakely items are sold, said the average cost for a single frosted glass is $7.50.
The most sought-after pieces, though, are the rare Blakely pitchers, china plates, small clear glasses and holding trays made of native Arizona pine. A set of frosted glasses with matching tray and pitcher is $150 at Diddy Dum Diddy Do, a retro furniture store in Scottsdale.
Monroe, the eldest Blakely brother, and his wife, Ruth, are credited with organizing and promoting the giveaways.
"It was popular in the ’50s and ’60s for gas stations to give premiums to the customers to encourage business," said Victor Linoff, antiques expert and owner of Those Were the Days! in Tempe. "The Blakely company was really one of the first."
In 1951, Blakely stations gave away a new Ford automobile every 51 days through a ticketed raffle. Winners were announced at a community event that often featured live entertainment, with Wayne Newton and Patsy Cline among the performers.
The glassware soon followed, but customers didn’t pay much attention to it, Pauline said. Her daughters used to try to break the frosted glasses when their father brought them home because, according to daughter Charlene, they hated to wash them.
"None of them would have believed how popular (the dishes have) become," said Charlene, referring to brothers Charles, Monroe and Vincent.
On the August cover of Phoenix Home & Garden magazine, eight Blakely frosted glasses are pictured on the dining room table of Judy Black’s vacation home in Cave Creek. Black, a lobbyist who lives in Washington, D.C., said she was attracted to the glassware’s appearance.
"I’ve been coming to Arizona for a long time to visit my parents, and one of the things my mom and I like to do is look around flea markets and antique stores for (Blakely glassware and china)," Black said.
She has about 16 frosted glasses, one tray, eight small juice glasses, 16 white china plates with silver rims and a full set of matching teacups. On her wish list are the ivorycolored plates.
At the company’s peak, there were 88 Blakely stations throughout Arizona, California and Nevada. When Gulf Oil Co. bought out Blakely in 1963, the stations were closed — all except one in Wickenburg, which Pauline still owns.
"I think it’s going to be in the family for a while," she said. "But I’ve got about all the glassware I need."