Home Drake Well Foundation About OilHistory.com The Author Contact
Oil Cans, Signs, Pumps, the Stations
Bill Shea's Filling Station

Oil Cans, Signs, Pumps, the Stations

If it’s a bit dingy, that’s OK. Oil can collectors hope for the best but will settle for less and excuses aren’t necessary for fair to middling cans that date back into the early-mid 1900’s. A motor oil can collection is usually colorful, attention-getting, causes people to reminisce, and the brands mark dates in the evolution of the refining-marketing aspects of the oil industry. During an oil change the can with its bright trademark would often be the last glimpse the motorist would have of his preferred brand. The service station attendant would throw the empty cans away. However, some of the rare survivors (those that were carried home or to the shop) became worth a lot of money in time (a phenomenon created by collectors). A few brands reach as high as $1000-$2000, but most collectible cans range from $10.00 to $100.00. Besides rarity a lot of things may figure into the value of an old oil can such as, esthetics of the can’s logo and whatever is pictured, age, condition, full or empty, etc.

Simpler Times museum
Interior view of Simpler Times museum near Tidioute, Pennsylvania.

A porcelain or metal sign showing the colors and logo of the motor oil’s brand of the nail-on or standing curb type would alert the motorist to the available brand before he pulled in for a gas-up. Some of these signs would include tricky words to lure the customer such as “Buy it Here” (Skelly Tagoline), “Flight Tested” (Sky Ranger Aviation Oil), “Mellowed a Hundred Million Years” (Sinclair), “Longer Wear Without Repair” (Rich-lube), “Smooth as the Tread of a Tiger” (Power-lube) and many more. A good collectible sign could be worth $2000 and up to $5000 (Anderton, 1999), but the usual range is about $100 to $800. Some brands provided stained glass windows to advertise their product (rare). The huge brand signs that stood in front of a gasoline station (sometimes on a massive metal pole) are real finds. For years the writer saw a large Sinclair Dino sign in a junk yard in Erie, PA, but when the day and mood finally came to dicker, the masterpiece was gone, in fact the whole junk yard was gone due to a neighborhood cleanup campaign.

Boliver gasoline "clock" pump
A Bolivar gasoline “clock” pump with globe and lens in good condition. Photo taken in oil and gas museum in Allenville, N.Y., on Rt. 417 in August 1993.
Shell and Gulf pumps
Two old retired pumps, Shell and Gulf, by a country road in Estill Co., Kentucky.
unused gas station
This long unused gas station on Rt. 77, Crawford Co., Pa., was dismantled in 2003.

A closed (for good) station with the gasoline pumps intact would be a desirable target for a globe or pump collector. Globes which used to sit atop the older pumps are now hard to find except at special auctions or an occasional flea market. A colorful glass globe is a highly decorative piece. Unfortunately reproductions have crept into the market. Whole pumps are becoming popular, but there was a limited available supply in the first place. A nicely restored vintage pump can have an estimated value of $900 to $3000 with globe and lens attached (Anderton, 1999). The writer has seen a number of acquired pumps sitting by the driveways of country houses and quite a few still in place at closed gasoline stations at crossroads. Most of them are the “eye level” type.

Old Quaker State station.
Old Quaker State station at rural crossroads in Wayne Township, Crawford County, Pa. (now gone). STERLING was a Quaker State Co. supreme brand of gasoline.
Filling station replica
Replica of a filling station at the show grounds of the Ashtabula County Antique Engine Club, Rt. 322, Ohio. Jonathan Soderberg.

It may not be too surprising to find great examples of pre-WWII gasoline stations and those of the 40’s and 50’s restored, preserved in place or even moved. Historical Societies, community groups, previous owners and collectors are apt to be involved in this. Sometimes the station has been preserved because of its mimetic architecture such as some of those which flourished along the famous Route 66 in its heyday and elsewhere along America’s highways. Examples are a station’s building constructed to look like a big gas pump, lighthouse, flying saucer, a tree stump, coffee pot, clamshell, tepee, etc. Some owners would bring a large, outlandish or attention-getting object to the station and make it a part of the station. Airplanes, even a bomber were effectively used in this manner. Some old survivors of station lore are still in place, but their business has changed or they sit idle and the grass grows, but somebody must be taking care of some of them.

© 2004, Samuel T. Pees
all rights reserved