Oil cans may seen mundane but are no longer manufactured, and thus have become popular items among collectors of gas station and oil company-related memorabilia–often referred to as petroliana. The cans come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and materials, not always metal (cardboard cans were common during World War II.) Oil cans of any kind are generally hard to find because they were usually disposed of after use.
Know the Oil Can Marketplace
As with other projects or business ventures, plan ahead. Know the history–the earliest motor oil cans date to the 1880s–and know the market. More recent cans may be worth less than a dollar; rare ones range to thousands of dollars, such a canteen-shaped, 1920s Harley-Davidson oil can.
To find cans, check flea markets, junkyards and other automobile-related places such as supply stores. Look in antique shops, garages, warehouses and barns. Get to know where collectors find their items. They may frequent estate sales, warehouse sales or specialty shops. Place an advertisement in your local newspaper, other local publications or online, pointing out what you're are seeking. Get out and let people know you are a collector. When you visit places, leave a business card with your name, phone number and email address so that people can contact you if they come across what you want. Search online for vintage oil cans for sale. Make notes on these sites–places you can go to sell your cans.
Types of Cans to Collect
The most sought after cans are usually brightly colored, cans with mascots on them, cans from smaller, less well-known oil companies and older metal ones with solder seams. The quart-size can is the most popular size, followed by the 1-gallon can and the 5-gallon easy-pour can from the 1920s and 1930s.
Collectors debate whether to keep cans full or empty. Some say if the can still contains oil, it's rarer; however, even sealed cans can be refilled. Others argue that empty cans don’t leak, are lighter and don’t sustain a lot of damage if dropped.
Since good-condition cans may be hard to find, you may want to be flexible with what you sell. You might want to expand to the smaller, rectangular household maintenance oil cans or the long-spouted variety that dispenses maintenance oil.
Places to Sell Oil Cans
The best place to sell oil cans is online, where your items will usually fetch the highest prices. You can begin with auction sites, such as eBay. Try similar auction sites as well and shopping sites featuring antiques. Advertise through the traditional media or online. Sign up for Facebook, Twitter or similar sites and promote your collection on them. Set up your own Web page for promotion and selling. You can also try antique shops where you can sell on commission or other kind of arrangement, flea markets, antique shows and collectible shops.