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    

Vintage Fleetwood Aero Craft Motor Oil Full Metal Quart Oil Can Very RareNice Old Tin Litho Red Indian 1 Quart Motor Oil Advertising Tin Can Nice Old Rare Litho 1/2 G. Mutual Liberty Air O Motor Oil Advertising Tin Can Conoco Oil Can Display Rack Holds 18 Cans Vintage,Vintage Savage Gun Oil CanNice Old Tin Litho Owens Pendragon Boat 1 Quart Motor Oil Advertising Tin Can Vintage Harley Davidson Chrome Cleaner Polish Bottle Oil Can Jar Sign Rare!Vintage Browning Gun Oil CanVintage Phillips 66 Tube Repair Kit Can Gas Oil Tire RubberVintage Standard Polarine Motor Oil Glass Bottle Jar W/spout Can SignVintage Johnson Motor Oil - Time Tells Oil Can BankNice Old Tin Litho Para Pride 1 Quart Motor Oil Advertising Tin Can Cars PlaneVintage Penn's All American Oil Can - 2 Gallon - Advertising-gas/service StationVintage Sunoco Motor Oil Glass Bottle Jar W/spout Can Sign~niceRed Indian Aviation Oil Can Vintage Advertising Collectible Quart Wartime RareVintage Perfect Pocket Oiler Cushman & Dennison Oil Can Hunting Fishing P4 -89Antique Crystal Motor Oil 1 Gallon Metal Can Emlenton PennsylvaniaNice Old Tin Litho Hand Soldered 1/2 G. Puritan Motor Oil Advertising Tin Can Nice ** 1940s Vintage Marathon Runner Handy Oil Old 4oz Lead Spout Tin Oiler CanHarley-davidson Motor Cycle Cycles Biker Oil Tin CanVintage 2 Gallon Para-penn Oil Can From Westville IndianaRare ~ 1950s Vintage Mopar Dry Graphite Lubricant Old Oiler Oil CanVintage Mobil Mobiloil "af" Gargoyle Spout For Motor Oil Glass Bottle Can Sign1920's Socony One Gallon Oil Can Nice Old Tin Litho Golden Eagle 1 Quart Motor Oil Advertising Tin Can Nice ** 1940s Vintage Sinclair Household Oil Old 4 Oz Tin Oiler CanNos Full Near Mint 1940s Vintage Esso E Handy Oil Old Lead Spout Tin Oiler CanNr Mint 1930s Vintage Pyroil Household Oil Old Art Deco Lead Spout Tin Oiler CanNice Old Rare Litho Minit Auto Care 1 Quart Motor Oil Advertising Tin Can CarVintage Bardahl Sportsmen's Lead Top Gun Oil Can/tin 1940's/50's - Very NiceNice Old Litho Invincible Kerosene Gas Oil Not Motor Oil Advertising Tin CanVery Rare Economy 2 Gallon Oil CanVintage Original Signal 1 Quart Oil Can Full - Very Nice!!Very Rare Silent Chief Motor Oil 5 Quart Can Security Oil Co. Wichita Kansas KsSenator Terry Carpenter Two Gallon Oil Can RareRare 1930s Vintage Dx Gas Station Mid Continent Tube Repair Kit Old Tin Oil CanAll Original Mobiloil Gargoyle " A " Heavy Medium Motor Oil Can One Gallon Near Mint 1940s Vintage Dx Household Oil Old 4oz Lead Spout Tin Oiler Oil CanVintage "quaker State" 5 Quart Oil CanVintage Rapid Oiler Motor Oil Glass Bottle Jar W/spout Can SignRare Early Vintage Original Cities Service Motor Oil Can Quart Metal 1 Qt LookVery Nice * 1950s Vintage Kendall 2000 Mile Utility Oil Old 4 Oz Tin Oiler CanVintage 2 Gallon Motor Oil Can, Penguin, Gas Station Display, Picture Oil CanPhillips 66 Aviation Full 1 Quart Oil CanVintage Phillips 66 World's Finest Motor Oil Empty Metal Quart Oil CanWhite Rose Dursoi Heavy Duty Motor Oil Quart Tin Can Rare * Great Shape!! 1920s Vintage Bf Goodrich Tire Tube Outfit Old Tin Oil CanGreat Shape !!! 1950s Vintage Sinclair Lighter Fluid Old 4 Oz Tin Oiler Oil CanVintage 2 Gallon Penrich Oil Can. B.f. Goodrich Co.Near Mint * 1932 Vintage Firestone Tire Tube Repair Kit Old Tin Oil CanGraphic * 1940s Vintage Ever-ready Oil Old 4oz Lead Spout Tin Oiler CanRare Vtg Socony Vacuum Full "lubrite" Quart Oil Can Mobil Pegasus Emblem ExcelVintage Viscoyl Sae 20 Motor Oil Glass Bottle Jar W/spout Can Sign~niceVintage Studebaker Packard Special Motor Oil 1 Qt. Metal Can - FullNice * 1920s Vintage Firestone Tire Tube Kit Old Tin Oil CanVintage 4 Oz. Flying A Household Oiler Can Tidewater Oil Company Veedol TycolNear Mint 1930s Vintage Whiz Loosen All Old 1 Pt. Tin Oiler Oil CanRare Vintage Early Logo Standing Dinosaur Sinclair Motor Oil Quart CanRare Vintage Your Friend 2 Gallon Motor Oil Can Hammond,la Advertising MonkeyVintage 2 Gallon Penn Champ Oil Can From Butler Pa