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    

Rare Near Mint 1950s Vintage Harley Davidson Motor Oil Old 1 Qt Metal CanNos Unopened 1930s Vintage Oilzum Motor Oil Old Logo 1 Qt Metal Can Very Nice * 1950s Vintage Indian Motorcycle Premium Motor Oil Old 1 Qt Metal CanRare Near Mint 1930s Vintage Sinclair Pennsylvania Motor Oil Old 1 Qt Metal CanOld 1955's Vintage White Rose Motor Oil Quart Tin Can Sign Canada Great Shape ! ~ 1930s Vintage Sinclair Opaline Motor Oil Old 1qt Metal CanGraphic * Near Mint * Nos Full 1940s Vintage Nourse Motor Oil Old 1qt Metal CanNear Mint Nos Full 1950s Vintage Richfield Motor Oil Old 1qt Metal CanGraphic Near Mint Nos Full 1950s Vintage Nourse Noco Motor Oil Old 1qt Metal CanRare Near Mint Early 1920s Vintage Texaco 574 Motor Oil Old 1 Qt Tin CanRare * Nos Full 1950s Vintage Nourse Gas & Diesel Motor Oil Old 1qt Metal CanRare & Vintage Tractor Farming Co. John Deere Harvester Collectible Red Oil CanRare Near Mint 1930s Vintage M-f-a Sho - Me Motor Oil Old Missouri 1qt Metal CanNos Unopened 1940s Vintage Sinclair Opaline Motor Oil Old 1 Qt Metal Can Old Castrol Everyman Empty Handy Oil Can Oiler 4oz. G.Very Nice * Nos Full 1950s Vintage Wings Motor Oil Old 1 Qt Metal Can Near Mint Nos Full 1940s Vintage Richfield Circle C Motor Oil Old 1qt Metal Can Rare 1930s Vintage Zerolube Polar Bear Motor Oil Old Penn Glenn 1qt Metal CanNear Mint Art Deco 1940s Vintage Welch's Motor Oil Old 2 Gal. Metal Can Nos Unopened 1950s Vintage Clark Super Motor Oil Old 1 Qt Metal Can Nos Full 1950s Vintage Harley Davidson Pre-luxe Motor Oil Old 1qt Metal CanRare * Nice 1960s Vintage Pennzoil Snowmobile Oil Old 6 1/4 Gallon Metal CanOld 3 In 1 Cycle & Mower Empty Picture Handy Oil Can Oiler. VgVintage Oil Can, Mobil, Mobiloil, Gargoyle, Medium Heavy Body, OriginalNos Unopened 1950s Vintage Clark 100 Motor Oil Old 1 Qt Metal Can Near Mint 1942 Vintage Buick Car Stop Leak Old Wwii Glass Jar Oil Bottle - CanNear Mint 1942 Vintage Socony Vacuum Mobiloil Mobil Motor Oil Old 1qt Metal CanNear Mint 1930s Vintage Merit Motor Oil Old 1 Qt Metal CanRare 1930s Vintage Jenny Motor Oil Old 1 Qt Metal CanNear Mint * Nos Full 1962 Vintage Texaco Motor Oil Old 1 Qt Metal CanVery Nice * 1930s Vintage Cities Service Trojan Motor Oil Old 1 Qt Metal CanShure Kleen Gun Oil Can Crossed RiflesOld Steel & Brass Valvespout Conical Oil Can Oiler. VgEarly Texaco Home Lubricant Oil Tin Can Handy Oiler Lead Top 4 Oz. SignNos Unopened 1940s Vintage Harley Davidson Motorcycle Oil Old 1 Qt Metal Can Nice * Nos Full 1950s Vintage Quaker Maid Motor Oil Old 1qt Metal CanVintage 100% All Original Conoco Oil Can Display Rack. Porcelain Signs (2) Rare!Old Stoegrol Gun Oil Tin Can 3oz Advertising Stoeger Antique Marbles [camp Scene] Gun Oil CanVintage Original Archer Lubricants Oil CanNos Unopened 1960s Vintage Sinclair Extra Duty Motor Oil Old 1 Qt. CanVintage Glenwood Motor Oil 2 Gallon Can New York Ny1930s Vintage M-f-a Penn Guard Motor Oil Old Logo 1 Qt Metal CanRare 1940s Vintage Cities Service Motor Oil Old 5 Gallon Metal Can Allied Handy Oiler Oil Tin Can Chattanooga Tennessee Rare !Wwi Usmc Us Army M1917 Oil Can Gas Mask & Canvas Haversack Field GearNos Full Near Mint * 1950s Vintage Esso Motor Oil Old 1 Qt Metal CanExc Rare Full 1950's Canadian White Rose Outboard Motor Oil Quart Tin Can SignVintage Goodyear Handy Oil Lighter Fluid Can Tin 4ozOld Excelene Lubricating Empty Handy Oil Can Oiler 7.5oz. G/vgRare Vintage Acmelube 1 Qt Outboard Motor Oil Can Sealed Full Nice Condition Vintage Archer Handy Oiler Oil Can Tin Lead Spout And Cap Unused Full IndianVintage Gun Oil CanQuaker State 24" Round Button 1954 Sign & 1932 Oil Can Tin Gas Station VintageVintage Sinclair Outboard Extra Duty Motor Oil Can 1 Quart 2-cycle Dino LogoVintage 1950's Ford Farm Tractor Hydraulic Oil 5 Gallon Metal Can Sign1930s Vintage En-ar-co Slate Boy Motor Oil Old 1 Qt Metal CanVintage Alloy & Brass 0.5l Pump Oil Can Oiler Reilang No:1 Mint Old ToolJohn Deere Vintage Oil Can 1950's Original Farm Sign - No Reserve1950s Vintage Edsel Car Polish Old Ford Motor Company 1 Pt. Metal Oil Can