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 Golden Fleece 1 Imp Quart Motor Oil Tin Can - H.c. Sleigh Ltd.Vintage Original Oilzum Motor Oils Lubricants Motor Oil 5 Qt. CanRare 1935 Freedom Perfect Motor Oil Metal 1qt Can Watchdog Bulldog Pa OriginalRare Vintage Gm Accessories Handy Oiler Advertising 1950`s Gmc Oil CanVintage Strata Motor Oil Full All Metal Quart Oil Can Very Rare!!Early Whiz Neatsfoot Clutch & Belt Compound Tin Hollingshead Auto Oil CanVintage Full One Pint Oilzum Cleaner & Polish Oil Can White & Bagley Very Rare! Vintage Original Lion Head Motor Oil CanAll Original Mobiloil " A " Heavy Medium Gargoyle Motor Oil Can One Gallon Awesome 1 Qt. 1930's " Gilmore " Oil Can.........full Old Golden Fleece 1 Imp Quart Motor Oil Tin Can - Gear Oil Xep 90Antique Pike Gun Fishing Oil Tin Litho Can Handy Oiler Behr Manning Troy Ny OldAntique Old Litho Johnson's Automobile Car Wax Advertising Garage Tin Can OilVintage Gulf Lube Metal Quart Motor Oil Can1 Qt. Coreco Oil Can W/content Oil City, Pa.Vintage Penn - Convoy Motor Oil Metal Empty U.s. Quart Oil Can Very Rare!! Vintage Original Pennzoil Oil Can RackOld Porcelain Texaco Sign Oil Gas Station Advertising Enamel Pump Can CurvedShell Oil Can1935 Penn Glenn Aviation Motor Oil Metal 1qt Can Tractor Diesel Leechburg PaRare John Deere Vintage Lawn And Garden Oil Can Four Legged 110Rare Vintage Esso Handy Oil Tin Can Handy Oiler Lead Top 3 Oz Old Golden Fleece 1 Quart Motor Oil Tin Can With Wide Top !Antique 1gal Brooks Motor Oil Tin Litho Can Cleveland Ohio Gas Service StationVintage Sta Lube Racing Motor Oil Can FullRare Vintage Gm Accessories 1950`s Advertising Gmc Oil Can Great GraphicsOriginal Vintage Freedom Valvoline Fc Motor Oil Full Qt Metal Can Vintage Nos Pa"gulf Can Of Oil" Never Opened. Vintage Penn - Bee Motor Oil Full All Metal Quart Oil Can Rare!!Salyer Stay Ready Atf Quart Oil Can Oklahoma City Pinup Girl Duck1# Coreco Grease Can Oil City, Pa. Excellent Condition W/content1937 Centennial John Deere Tractor Oil Distillate Barrel Can Coin BankPara-field Motor Oil Can 1 Quart Nos Unopened 1930s Vintage Oilzum Motor Oil Old Logo 1 Qt Metal Can Rare Version No # Socony Vacuum Oil Co Gargoyle Mobiloil No. ? Mobilgrease CanAntique Packard Car Automobile Chassis Lubricator Oil Tin Litho Can Gas StationVintage En-ar-co Motor Oil Can Empty One Imperial QuartRed Indian 5lb Oil Can Paper Label Vintage Advertising Collectible Very Rare! Vantrol Gun And Reel Oil CanVintage Texaco Aircraft Engine Oil Can "full" One QuartVintage Old Gulf Oil New No Nox Porcelain Gas Pump Sign Plate Enamel CanTin Sunoco Outboard Motor Oil Can Vintage 1960s Great ConditionAwesome Ultra Rare " Golden Eagle " 1 Qt. Full Oil CanVintage Original Polly Penn Motor Oil CanMobil Gargoyle Mobiloil Oil Quart CanVintage Long Life To Gallon Motor Oil Can Airplane Graphics Detroit Michigan GasRare Near Mint 1930s Vintage Sinclair Pennsylvania Motor Oil Old 1 Qt Metal CanVintage Mid Century Cities Service Koolmotor Oil Can (used)Excellent Vintage Falcon 1 Quart Motor Oil Can Outboard Oil Empty & SealedWwii Us Army M1 Garand Or Carbine 2 Ounce Standard Oil Can, 1944 *original* NosOriginal Heart O Pennsylvania Motor Oil Metal Can 1 Full Qt Columbia PetroleumDuplex Marine Engine Oil Vintage Can, Gallon, Quaker State, Chris Craft Gar WoodOriginal Vintage Pennsylvania Cruiser Pure Motor Oil 2 Gallon Metal Can SignVintage Liberty Motor Oil Can Bemidji Mn Mancave Gulf Penetrating Oil Can Vintage Sinclair Emerald Auto Oil 2 Gallon Can New YorkVintage Original Oil Can RackVintage Original Paragon Ford Motor Oil 1 Gal. Oil CanInternational Harvester Penetrating Oil Can 4 Oz. Super Rare CanConoco Outboard Motor Oil Can ~ Vintage Marine, Small Engine 41