How to Date Old Milk Cans (With Worth, Types & Marks – 2023)

Do you have old milk cans tucked away in your shed? If yes, then it’s time you take them out because there’s a high chance they can make you rich! These antique cans saw the rise of different eras, from horse-drawn carriages to automobiles, being a collector’s paradise!

But the question is, how would you know how old a milk can is? Well, from their design to the markings etched into their metal, each milk can bore secrets that unravel its age. So, join me in studying all those features to date these valuable old milk cans and appraise them!

Key Takeaways

  • Old milk cans might not have marked dates, but you can use their patents, model numbers & location marks to date them correctly.
  • Pick milk cans with hand-molded wood, tin, copper & cast-iron sides for an old make.
  • The earliest milk cans had flat or dome-shaped lids, while the later cans (1900s) used tighter screw-on or gasket lids.
  • Barewood or handpainted black & white cans belong to the 1800s, while those with shiny red & blue colors might be new 1900s milk cans.

How Do You Know if Your Milk Can is Old & Antique?

Group of Vintage Metal Milk Cans

Of course, stamped patents and serial numbers help us track the age. But you can also identify old milk cans with the following marks & design features:

  • Producer’s stamp with the dairy’s name, area, and region
  • Thick, cylindrical cans with a rounded base and conical top
  • Double-walled cans with extra insulation for cooling
  • Pouring spouts and vents to balance the vacuum
  • Simple flat or dome-shaped lids with seals

The Interesting History & Evolution of Antique Milk Cans

Do you know that the early 1700s people used old wood & clay pots to transport milk? And for proper temperature, they added animal skin & hide insulation too. But, these pots were so fragile and leaked easily.

Then, by the 1830s, dairy farmers had moved to simple tin and copper cans. And since these used hinged lids, they had better temperature and spill control. But they were heavy, and carts couldn’t carry them for long.

So makers shifted to galvanized steel cans in the 1900s. They were thin and insulated, with cylindrical walls and a conical top for pouring. Also, they had extra features like spouts, handles, and pedestal bases for balance.

However, there was a severe metal shortage during the 1930s Depression. So, milk farmers switched to plastic and glass bottles, making old milk cans more collectible!

5 Types of Old Milk Cans (With Dates, Prices & Features)

Antique Milk Can Types & Shapes

If you want to know your old milk cans date, you MUST sort it into these five types below:

Old Milk Can TypeYearTop Identifying FeaturesEstimated Value
Standard Churn Design1870sCylindrical tanks with conical steel tops, sealing lids, and two side and central handles$40 – 200
Bulbous Cans1880sRound or bulbous cans with soldered edges and vented caps$50 – 300
Slender Milk Cans1920sTall & sleek milk cans with aluminum or steel walls & flat bases$20 – 150
Household Cans1800sSmall tin, copper, or brass cans with tight, sealing lids and flat bases$30 – 200
Specialty Milk Cans1900sUnique, designer cans with special spouts, handles, lids & pedestal bases$60 – 250

Old standard churn cans made in the 1800s have a standard © mark, whereas the 1900s ones use a ® symbol.

6 Dating & Valuation Factors of Vintage Milk Cans

If you are not sure about your old milk can type, here are other factors like marks & materials to know its date:

1. Antique Milk Can Marks & Numbers

Old Milk Cans with Painted Marks & Numbers

Do you know that old milk cans from different eras have different marks and stamps? For instance, the earliest 1800s cans had location marks, while the 1900s ones used patents. So, let’s see how to use each of them to date your milk can:

Patent Numbers: If your milk can has a stamped, 4 – 10 digit patent number on its base or lid, it might be a 1900s model. Also, look for metal-reinforced bases, labels, and engraved ‘US’ or ‘EU’ stamps with them. Here are a few examples:

Vintage Milk Can Patent NumberYearAgeEstimated Value
US1921247A (Cylindrical Milk Cans)193291 years$20 – 150
US2268763A (Milk Can with Covers)193984 years$20 – 150
2268763 (Milk Can with two side handles)1900114 – 123 years$50 – 300
1921247 1933 (Milk plus cream can)194281 years$50 – 200

Location Marks: Vintage milk cans with embossed country codes or ‘Made in USA’ stamps date back to the 1800s or 1900s. Also, some of these have the dairy’s mascot, logo & initials under them. 

Let’s see how to date such specific country marks below:

Old Milk Can Location MarkYearAgeAverage Cost
05-1234: California1909 – 1960s63 – 114 years$50 – 200
03-4567: Arizona1910 – 1960s63 – 113 years$30 – 100
10-7890: Georgia1911 – 1960s63 – 112 years$30 – 100
20-9012: Maryland1912 – 1960s63 – 111 years$20 – 90
32-0123: New York1913 – 1960s53 – 110 years$20 – 90

Model or Serial Numbers: Does your old milk can have a stamped serial number on its base or handle? If yes, it might be a new 1900s model with machine-finished or soldered edges. But if you want to know the exact years, check the table below:

Antique Milk Can Serial NumbersYearAgeAverage Price
1234561900 – 1960s63 – 123 years$50 – 200
6543211900 – 1960s63 – 123 years$50 – 200
9876541920 – 1940s83 – 103 years$30 – 100
4321981930 – 1950s73 – 93 years$20 – 100
765432 (Rare, Limited Edition number)1940 – 1960s63 – 83 years$50 – 300

Food Labeling Phrases: Antique milk cans with a proper ingredient list or exact sugar and salt content stamps were popular in the early 1900s. So, check for such phrases on the bronze or printed paper label, and verify them from our list:

Old Milk Can Food LabelsYearAge
Cure1800 – 1906117 – 223 years
Hermetically Sealed1900 – 1920103 – 123 years
Packed in Sanitary Cans1900 – 1920103 – 123 years
Salt Added1920 – 193093 – 103 years
Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval1910 – 1920103 – 113 years
Patent Pending1940 – 196063 – 83 years
Sugar Added1920 – 193093 – 103 years

Capacity stamps: One of the key features of the 1900s milk cans, capacity marks indicate the can’s size and milk content. So, rotate your can and check for such ‘5,’ ‘10,’ or ‘20-gallon’ marks on its base, sides, handles, or lids.

Try to get antique milk cans with paper or bronze labels with the dairy’s address, area, and 4-digit phone number for more returns.

2. Old Milk Can Materials

Vintage Milk Cans with Different Materials

Well, the earliest 1800s milk cans might have crude wood, tin, or copper sides. But, with the advent of the 20th century, makers focused on light & insulative steel & aluminum cans.

And not only can you spot and date old milk cans, but you can also appraise them with the help of materials:

Vintage Milk Can MaterialsYearsHow to Identify? Estimated Price
Wood 1830 – 1850Planked & bonded sides with cross-metal bands at regular intervals$40 – 250
Tin or Copper1830 – 1870Cylindrical cans with rounded or flat tops and a bluish-green patina$30 – 200
Cast & Alloyed Iron1830 – 1900Thick, heavy & blackish cans with powdered, matte surfaces$50 – 250
Galvanized Steel1870 – 1930Thin, silver-gray cans with simple, conical, or flat tops and embossed dairy stamps$30 – 150
Aluminum1920 – 1960Shiny and streamlined cans with a whitish surface$40 – 100
Stainless Steel1940 – 1960Thin, shiny & reflective surfaces with engraved stamps & dairy names$30 – 90

Pick old milk cans with a natural patina, enameled or painted finishes for an old make.

3. Vintage Milk Can Brands

Old & Branded Milk Cans

Does your old milk can have a signed brand name, logo, or mascot on its walls or sides? If yes, it might be a 1800s or 1900s branded milk can. So just note its name, and verify the exact years and cost from our table below:

Antique Milk Can BrandsYearsUnique & Collectible FeaturesEstimated Value
DeLaval1870 – 1950Superior galvanized steel cans with conical tops and signed ‘Delaval’ markings$80 – 300
Buhl1870 – 1950Cast iron or steel cans with engraved brand & capacity marks$100 – 400
Superior1900 – 1960Simple, conical milk cans with a signed ‘Superior’ mark on the base$70 – 250
Sensible1900 – 1930Steel or Aluminum cans with conical lids and printed labels$80 – 300
The International Harvester Company (IHC)1870 – 1950Tin, Iron, or Steel cans with a printed company label or sticker$100 – 500

Look for antique milk churns with soldered metals, physical grooves, and handles for a branded make.

4. Old Milk Churn Colors

Colored & Painted Milk Cans

The earliest 1800s cans used natural wood or tin colors, often with extra varnishing and glazing for glossiness. In contrast, the 1860s ones used white & black paint, whereas cans from the early 1900s moved to galvanized red & blue finishes.

So, let’s check how to date & appraise this aging factor:

Old Milk Can ColorsAverage Value
Black, Gray & White$50 – 200
Cream & Brown$50 – 150
Red & Orange$30 – 120
Metallic Silver or Pewter$50 – 150
Green & Olive$30 – 100
Blue, Teal & Purple$30 – 100

5. Antique Milk Can Lids

Old Milk Can with a Flat Lid

Want a quick visual test to date and appraise your old milk cans? Just open their covers and observe the lids. If they are flat, you might have an old, handmade milk can. But if they are domical or screwed, it might be a new 1900s can.

But how will you use the lid design to date your milk can? Find out below!

Antique Milk Can LidsYearsSpecial FeaturesEstimated Cost
Flat Disc Lids1870 – 1930Simple, flat discs with sealed mouths and a side handle for removal$50 – 200
Dome-shaped Lids1900 – 1950Round or bulbous lids with a central handle for grip$40 – 150
Screw-on Lids1920 – 1950Elongated lids with grooved & threaded mouths for a tight seal$40 – 100
Locking Lids1900 – 1930Double-level lid with concealed locks on both sides$30 – 90
Lids with Gaskets1900 – 1960Simple, round lids with extra rubber or silicone gaskets for a tight seal$30 – 90

Try to get old milk cans with perforated milk can covers or vessels as those are old, roughly from 1820 to 1930.

6. Vintage Milk Can Capacity

Another visual clue to identify and date your old milk churns! It’s so that the old 1800s milk cans were small, with a low capacity of 3 – 5 gallons. But, the later 1900s ones had large, 10 – 20 gallon tanks.

Here’s a list of such different milk can sizes, their uses & years below:

Old Milk Can CapacityYearsUsesAverage Cost
3 – Gallon Milk Cans1870 – 1950Household or transportation$50 – 200
5 – Gallon Milk Cans1870 – 1950Farm & agricultural Use$70 – 200
8 – Gallon Milk Cans1900 – 1950Used for farms with higher milk production capacity, transportation & Storage$50 – 150
10 – Gallon Milk Cans1900 – 1950Used for commercial dairies & regions with high milk production$50 – 250

What Do the Numbers on Old Milk Cans Mean? 

The 4-10 digit embossed or stamped numbers could signify a milk can’s patent number, capacity, or location codes. And if the milk can’s branded, it could mean a specific model or serial number too!

Are Old Milk Cans Worth Anything? 

Yes, old milk cans cost $25 – 200 if they are in good condition, with prominent marks and codes. In fact, some old, handmade wood or tin ones might value up to $300 too.

What Were Old Milk Cans Called? 

Old milk cans were also called ‘milk pails,’ ‘milk churns,’ and ‘dairy cans’ due to their flat, pail-like shapes and dairy logos.

How Do You Clean Old Milk Cans? 

You can clean your milk tank by scrubbing it with warm water & powdered soap. But if your can has a lot of rust, rub it lightly with sandpaper, and coat it with wax.

Old milk cans might look small & plain at first glance, but these hold tremendous value when identified & dated correctly. For this, observe the can, and check for any patents, location marks, or numbers on the surface. And if you don’t find them, move on to the materials and other visual clues.

Want to identify more farm-related antiques? If yes, my detailed identification guides on ‘Antique Stone Axes,’ ‘Broad Axes,’ & ‘Plows’ are all you need!

Judith Miller
Judith Miller

Judith is an antique expert with nearly 20 years of experience in the field of antique identification and valuation. She has reviewed over 30 thousand vintage items and has worked with numerous antique shops. She enjoys seeing new places, attending antique shows and events, and sharing her knowledge with people! Know more about me

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