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]

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    

Antique Red Indian 1 Gallon Oil Tin Can Mccoll Frontenac Large 2 Gallon Early Mobil Embossed Motor Oil Can Tin Flying Horse LogoWynoils Complete Gun Care Oil CanVintage Texaco Home Lubricant Oil Can Oiler 5"Old Castrol Everyman 125ml Handy Oil Can Oiler. VgOld Valvespout Steel & Brass Oil Can Oiler. VgOriginal Long Run Western Auto 5 Gallon Rocker Oil Can 1920's Indian~motorcycle~co. Vintage Oil Can Metal Sign L@@k Super Rare!!!!! Rare Vintage Portage Penn Motor Oil 2 Gallon Metal Can Sign W/indianOld Three In One Cycle & Mower Handy Oil Picture Tin Can. VgOld Duckhams Cycle & Home 4.4oz Or 125ml Handy Picture Oil Tin Can. VgOld Vintage Metal Buick Grease Full Gas Oil Can Tin Sign Advertising QuartRed Indian Oil Can Mccoll Frontenac 1qt Rare Vintage Collectible.Vintage Original Sinclair Opaline Motor Oil Can No Reserve!! Vtg Antique Rare Black Bear Motor Oil 5 Gallon Oil Can Long Island City, NyOld 1894 Retractable Spout Small Nickle Plated Brass Oil Can Oiler. VgVery Nice 1950s Vintage Kendall 3 Star Gear Lube Motor Oil Old 5 Gal. Metal CanVintage 1 Quart Castrol Wakefield Motor Oil Tin Can-petrol Oil Company-man Cave!Vintage Rare Imperi Highly Refined Cycle Lubricating Oil Tin Can Handy Oiler)Vintage Penn Otasco Early Metal 1 Qt Oil Can Full Very Rare CanOld Rocker Oil Can Pennzoil RestorationVery Rare Vintage Tiopet Motor Oil Can 5 U.s Gallons Made In U.s.a 1940s Vintage Marathon Runner Vep Motor Oil Old 5 Gal. Metal CanOld Dag Filtrate 7.5oz Penetrating Handy Oil Can Oiler. VgRare National Oil Can And Silver Shell Oil Can Imperial Quarts CansNos Full Harris Premium Motor Oil Can Excellent ConditionOriginal Ford Oil Can, Model T 1908-1927,model A 1928-1931 Ford Firewall OilCities Service Imperial Quart Koolmotor Motor Oil Tin Litho Can Unopen FullQuaker State Medium Oil Five Us Quart Tin Can 100% Pure Pennsylvania Oil 20-30'sOld Lucas Favorite Plated Brass Oil Can Oiler. VgVinatge Sinclair Motor Oil 1 Quart Oil CanOld Vintage Metal Veedol Flying A V Gas Oil Can Tin Sign Advertising QuartVintage Rare 45 Cent Archer Motor Oil Can All Metal Empty Quart CanOld Wolseley Vintage Car Brass & Steel Oil Can Oiler. VgVintage Frontier Lube Motor Oil Metal CanVintage Sealed 1/2 Pint Harley Davidson Two Cycle Motor Oil CanSico Motor Oil One Quart Can Sico Company Mount Joy Pa Rare Vintage Oil CanVintage 1lb Vacuum Petroleum Jelly Tin Can-mobil Oil Company Pegasus AdvertisingRare Vintage Stabl Flo Oil Can Full Unopend 32oz Quart Oil And Gas Can TinVintage Derby Super-x Flex-lube Motor Oil Quart Can FullVintage Rare Halfords Cycle Oil Tin Can Handy Oiler (original Metal Cap)Very Nice Hard To Find * 1950s Vintage Skelly Motor Oil Old 5 Gal. Metal CanVintage Rare Nice 5 Quart Pennzoil Motor Oil Can All Metal Empty 5 Quart Tin CanAce High, Midwest Oil, Motor Oil Quart CanVintage Troco Motor Oil Can Good ConditionBoat Graphics * 1950s Vintage American Outboard Motor Oil Old 5 Gal. Metal CanFord Vintage Hand Oil Can - Antique Oiler Auto Tractor Old Advertising Model - TVintage Rare Emblem Motor Oil Can All Metal Empty Quart Can Warren, PaOld Vintage Penn Drake Motor Oil Can ~ Empty Unopened Display Can From Box Of 24Rare White Standard Oil Rpm 5 Qt Oil Can In Very Good To Ex Condition 1930s-40'sStandard Stanolube Hd-m Motor Oil Vintage Unopened Oil Can. 40-50'sPrairie City Oil Co., Liquid Buffalo Belt Dressing CanUltra Rare Union 76 Royal Triton Motor Oil Double Sided Porcelain Sign W/canAntique 1886 Overman Wheel Co Pocket Pancake Oiler Victor Bicycle Oil Can BostonRare 1920s Vintage Ford Cup & Differential Grease Old Graphic Oil Can Tin LidVintage Rare M-s Highly Refined Cycle Oil Tin Can Handy Oiler- Original CapOld Vintage Metal Phillips 66 Full Gas Oil Can Tin Sign Advertising QuartNice 1930s Vintage Sears Roebuck Cross Country Motor Oil Old 2 Qt. Pour Can1950s Vintage Conoco Super Motor Oil Old 5 Gal. Metal CanVintage Cities Service 1 Gallon Oil Can Cisco Pep Gas Station Garage Tin Old