Antique Oil Cans



2015-06-26 11:17:17

Antique Oil Cans are a popular form of collectible petroliana.

Brief history and description

The history of antique oil cans is a lengthy one, as oil cans themselves have been in production for over 100 years. The standard ‘quart’ can, which is generally considered as much coveted by collectors, remained in production until the early 1940’s.

The quart oil can was created with a crimped seam which eliminated the need for soldering, and facilitated the increased use of elaborate slogans and artwork on the outer of the can. There are many subsets within the ‘quart’ range and a variety of shapes and sizes were produced and remain available for sale, though it is a matter of opinion to the individual collector which is the most desirable.

Guide for collectors

Antique oil cans have acquired a particular desirability amongst collectors, steadily becoming one of the most popular and accessible collectors’ items on the market. The wide variety of designs, shapes and sizes makes them an interesting piece of nostalgia, and the main debate amongst collectors is centred on whether to keep their oil cans full or empty; many consider that cans still containing oil are rarer, and therefore more valuable.

Collectors will have difficulty obtaining older oil cans with their contents intact, and over the years the risk of leakage or damage leads to the cans being emptied by necessity.

The cans themselves vary radically in price according to condition and individual desirability; rarer, mint condition finds will invariably fetch higher prices than those in worse condition. The oil cans are available not only at conventional auctions but at online auctioneers such as eBay, where a degree of searching will be a prerequisite, but prices may be lower than those found elsewhere. provides a wealth of information on this coveted collectable, including a section listing items for sale.

Notable auction sales

The highest price paid for an antique oil can at auction was $900, for a collection of cans from the companies Texaco, Oilzum, Mobiloil, Sinclair and Morlife, auctioned on 3rd November 2011 at Auctions America by RM. In a similar price range, a lot of five 1940’s Shamrock motor oil quart cans sold auctioned from Unique Antiques, Inc. on 30th July 2006 for $200.

In the middling price-range, a 1960’s Shamrock quart motor oil can in good condition sold for $100 from Unique Antiques, Inc. on 30th July 2006, and a lot consisting of three large antique oil cans sold for $80 from RM Auctions on 16th September 2005.

At the lower end of the price range, a 1940’s Gearol washing machine quart oil can sold for $30 from Unique Antiques, Inc. on 30th July 2006, whilst at the same auction a 1950’s Cities Service outboard motor oil quart sold for $20, and an antique oil can sold for $15 from California Auctioneers on 12th December 2010.

The lowest price paid for an antique oil can is $5, for an Atlantic motor oil can dated from the 1940s, which was auctioned from Unique Antiques, Inc. on 30th July 2006.

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