Old oil cans for sale are one of the most popular petroliana (automobile and gas station ephemera) collectibles. While many old gas cans end up in the trash, those that have been preserved and in good condition can fetch a decent payday for collectors. Generally, an oil can’s condition and its label and logo are the most important factors when determining its value.
When automobiles first came on the market, attendants filled cars and cleaned windshields and checked their oil. After they poured the old oil cans for sale, attendants usually tossed the empty cans. In the days of the “one man’s junk is another’s treasure” philosophy, those cans thrown away have now become highly coveted items for automobile enthusiasts. The most common size for motor oil cans was a quart, although some were also produced in five- and 10 gallon sizes. The metal cans were made by various manufacturers, including the American Can Company, Columbia Can Company, National Can Company and St. Louis Tin and Sheet Steel Metal Works, and offered a great opportunity for the companies to advertise their brand name.
The earliest oil cans were square and boxlike; the later cans were cylindrical with a soldered seam, often seen as a gray stripe on the back or side of the can. During World War II, due to metal shortages, some oil companies used cardboard or composite cans with metal tops and bottoms but cardboard sides, a practice that eventually led to round plastic cans that were introduced in the 1960s. The shape and other characteristics of a can can influence its value, so learning about the can’s manufacturer and era when it was produced is helpful when searching flea markets and tag sales for vintage oil cans.
A collector’s collection of oil cans typically includes a mix of the common national and regional brands, such as Texaco Havoline, Castrol, Esso and Shell. However, rare and specialized regional brands can be worth the most money since these cans were seldom used and then discarded. As with any other collectible, the condition of an oil can is crucial. The best cans will be free of rust and other damage, with clean graphics that are not faded or cracked.
As with most antiques and collectibles, the more information collected about a specific oil can’s condition, history and manufacturer, the better chance it has of selling for a fair price. Purchasing several standard oil can published price guides and making notes on the images in them will help to build an inventory of desirable oil cans, as well as a reference file for pricing each new find when searching for potential buyers at auctions, collector conventions or garage sales.