A few oil cans, with their rusty, weathered graphics of airplanes, race cars and motorcycles, can give the impression of a gas station from an era long past. They’re an important part of petroliana (gas-related antique ephemera), which attracts collectors who decorate garages and auto-related businesses with the colorful tin containers. They’re also the core of many collections that overlap both the automotive (“automobilia”) and petroliana categories.
An oil can’s value depends largely on its condition. Because they were originally used and discarded, most oil cans have some damage. The most desirable collectible quart cans have little or no rust and a minimum of dents and bends. As with other antiques, a higher quality can will fetch more money than a lower grade one.
Buying and selling vintage oil cans requires an understanding of how to determine the can’s value. The first step is learning a little about the history of oil cans and their makers. Purchasing several standard published price guides, even used copies, old oil cans provides a reference when evaluating cans found at flea markets and tag sales. Basic can maker characteristics like lead-seamed soldered seams and crimped seams help you quickly identify the general era of an oil can, which helps set a baseline valuation.
In addition to the oil can’s condition, its brand name influences its value. The most common brands are Texaco Havoline, Castrol, Esso and Shell. However, obscure or regional oil brands may command high prices as well. A logo variant – one that differs from the current, more familiar design – also adds to a can’s value, especially if it is an early version of the original logo and coincides with a significant milestone year for the company.
While many vintage oil cans are sold in bulk and are not individually valuable, collectors who focus on rare cans can expect to sell them at a premium. Those who concentrate on specific graphic designs, such as airplanes, cars, motorcycles or boats, are also likely to find high demand for their collection. To maximize their earnings potential, sellers should be familiar with the prices reported in the standard price guides as well as the price levels sought at auctions, collector conventions and local dealers. This knowledge will help the seller set reasonable asking and selling prices for each can. As the market for vintage oil cans changes, the collector must constantly update their inventory and stay informed of new prices as they occur. The internet is an invaluable tool for keeping up with the changing market and pricing information. The internet is home to a number of sites that offer free price comparisons and online auctions that can help determine the value of a specific can. The best sites are those that provide a comprehensive and free database of antique oil cans. They also feature a user-friendly search engine that allows buyers to enter specific details about the can they are interested in purchasing. This way, they can quickly locate the right cans at the right prices.