In the early days of the gas station, attendants would do more than just fill up your tank—they would often clean your windshield and check your oil, too. If you needed new oil, an attendant would grab a metal oil can, add oil to your car's engine, and then throw away the can.

These days, the relatively few oil cans that survived that familiar pattern have become collectibles. Motor oil cans were made by the American Can Company, Columbia Can Company, National Can Company, St. Louis Tin & Sheet Steel Metal Works, and St. Louis Can Company, among others. These cans not only served as containers, they also gave oil companies one more opportunity to advertise their brand name and logo. The standard can size was one quart, but some oil cans were as large as five or even 10 gallons.

The earliest oil cans were square and boxlike. Oil companies eventually switched to cylindrical cans with a soldered seam, which was visible as a gray stripe on the back or side. These cans were common until the early 1940s.

With the metal shortages of World War II, many companies switched to composite or cardboard cans, which are sometimes known as paper quarts. These cans had metal tops and bottoms but cardboard sides as a way to conserve metal; they became quite common in the late 1950s and were used until the late ’80s. In the 1960s, some companies such as Phillips 66 experimented with square cardboard containers, which used less cardboard and no metal at all.

Round plastic cans were first introduced in the 1960s, a precursor to today’s ubiquitous plastic oil bottles. These cans still had a metal lid, but the body consisted of one piece of plastic.

Because most oil cans were simply used and then thrown away, those that are intact or, even better, unopened, are quite rare and desirable pieces of petroliana. The aesthetic appeal and uniqueness of a can’s label and logo also affect its value.


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Primarily Petroliana

Primarily Petroliana

Jim Potts’ site for petroliana collectors, featuring image galleries and community features such as a discussion … [read review or visit site]

Petroliana.co.uk

Petroliana.co.uk

Alan Chandler’s impressive collection of early British and European petroliana, including galleries with beautifu… [read review or visit site]

Petromobilia Switzerland

Petromobilia Switzerland

Alex Wyler’s site is mostly in German, but the collection and images speak for themselves. You’ll find old gas … [read review or visit site]

Falvo Collectables Gallery

Falvo Collectables Gallery

Ralph and Carol Falvo's excellent collection of automobiles, petroliana, jukeboxes, soda, and general store items. … [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Old Enamel Sign Shell Oil Cabinet Pertol Pump Gasoline Globe Can Pourer AdvertOld Enamel Sign Shell Oil Cabinet Pertol Pump Gasoline Globe Can Pourer Advert FVery Rare Gulfoil Oil Tin Can Lead Top Handy Oiler 3oz. (empty) Great ShapeVintage 1930's Texaco Motor Oil Glass Bottle & Spout Can SignOld Gulf Porcelain Sign Oil Gas Station Advertising Enamel Pump Can EmailschildOld Triple Shell Motor Oil Sign Box Nto Enamel Jug Tin Can Petrol Pump GasolineVintage Gargoyle Mobiloil Cc Oil Lubricant Can Sign Nice Original UnusedRed Indian 5 Quart Oil Can Metal Vintage Rare 5 Quart !!!!!!Rare- Vintage Union 76 Gasoline Emergency Can W Handle-12" X 9"-gas Oil StationVintage Aero Eastern 2 Gallon Motor Oil Can Christenson Oil Co. Portland, Ore.Rare Original 1920s White Rose Gasoline En-ar-co Rocker Oil 5 Gal. CanOld Enamel Sign Duckham's Motor Oil Thermometer Vintage Garage Motor Car Tin CanNice Golden Fleece Oil Can Petrol Tin White Spirit One GallonMg Mga Ta Tc Pa Pb Pop Side Vintage Oil Can Oiler Seven 7 Style Tool Kit RollOriginal Union 76 Triton Motor Oil Can Rack Porcelain Sign Display Gas Pump Vintage Supreme Auto Oil Can Gulf Refining Co One Gallon International Harvester Embossed Oil Can Very Good One Oiler Tractor Hit MissAntique Vintage Stacool 5 Gallon Motor Oil Metal Can Farm SignOld Gulf Porcelain Sign Oil Gas Station Advertising Enamel Pump Can EmailschildVintage Mobil Oil "a" Gargoyle 5 Gallon Can Wood Crate Mobiloil SignVintage Kendall 2000 Motor Oil Can 1 Qt All MetalVintage 1 Quart Indian Motorcycle Premium Oil 1 Quart All Metal Can Rare! Old Wolfs Head 1 Gallon Motor Oil Can Near MintVintage Penzoil Outboard Motor Oil Qt. Can South Penn Oil Vibrant Colors!Vintage Williams Bore Cleaner Gun Oil Tin Can1937 Centennial John Deere Tractor Oil Distillate Barrel Can Coin BankOld Marathon Outboard Motor Oil Can With The Runner BoatNos Full * Nice * 1930s Vintage Johnson Motor Oil Time Tells Old 1 Qt Metal CanOld Shell Large Porcelain Sign, 5 Lbs Motor Oil Gas Advertising Enamel Pump Can Vintage Wareco Premium Full Unopened Motor Oil Can, Cardboard, 1 QtRare Vintage Double Shell Motor Oil Imperial Gallon Oil CanAntique Flying A Household Oil Tin Litho Can Handy Oiler Gas Station Vintage OldVintage 1952 Standard Battery Sign Gas Station Original Oil Can Tin Garage Rare Harley-davidson Motorcycle Oil Can Motion Lava Lamp!Vintage Nos 1940s Esso Handy Oil Lead Top 3oz Long Spout Rare Can Mint!Graphic Airplane & Owls Nr Mint 1940s Vintage Pennzoil Motor Oil Old 1qt Tin Can~bellube Metal Quart Oil Can~~ L@@k!!Vintage Whiz Oil Cup Grease 5 Lbs Pail Oldtin Can Advertising Lot T956 ColorfulOriginal Johnson "time Tells" Rare Motor Oil Can No Reserve!!Very Rare Original 1939 Quaker State Tombstone Double Sided Oil Can RackRare! All Origonal 1920s Sinclair Rocker 5 Gallon Oil CanSilver Shield Two (2) Gallon Motor Oil Can Western Tire Auto StoresVintage**ultra Rare**socony Standard Oil Model T Mica Axle Grease Oil Can SignVintage Pure Oil 2 Gal. CanEarly Kunz Oil Co. Minneapolis Mn Gold Medal Lubricant 1 Lb. Can Great ShapeVintage Mobil Oil Can Spilling Coin Savings Bank Gas Station Advertising Rare Rare Amoco Lighter Fluid Oil Tin Can Handy Oiler 4 Oz. Unopened-still SealedRare Texaco Piston Oil Tin Can Corporation Milano Italy Licensee Of Texaco(s9639Antique John Deere Tractor Coldwater, Ohio Dealer Oil Can Vintage 1 Quart Gulf Saphire Motor Oil Can, Composite 20/20wAntique Conoco Nth Motor Oil 5 Quart Metal Can Ponca City, OklahomaWolf's Head Vintage Oil Can Advertising Sign.wolfs Gas Station Double-sided.rareSki Daddler Vintage Snowmobile Motor Oil Old 1 Qt Can Empty Plastic BottleRare Very Nice ~ 1920s Vintage Texaco 574 Motor Oil Old 1 Qt Metal CanWigwam Two (2) Gallon Motor Oil Can Eastern Motor OilConoco Tin Continental Oil Company Oiler Can And Machine Grease Tube AdvertisingGlenwood Two (2) Gallon Motor Oil CanGolden Shell Oil CanOriginal Victor Oil CanAmoco Gas Oil Station Advertising Sign 5 Gallon Can Vintage 1940s Barn Find