The Sutcliffe  Midget Oilcan
Lubrication with Style

Although practically any sort of oilcan can be used to lubricate a toy steam engine nothing is quite as satisfactory as a miniature version of the sort of full sized oilcan used by the engineers of yesteryear. Probably the best of these is the Sutcliffe 1/8 pint oilcan.These were made in three basic designs and a variety of colours.

An illustration from a trade catalogue.

The standard Oil Can.

The commonest design is probably the oldest. These had a cylindrical oil release button, a crudely stamped letter on the base and a Sutcliffe transfer on the top. The transfers tended to wash off easily and are difficult to find in good condition. Spouts could be tipped in brass or left plain. The filler cap was a brass screw fitting.

In the older cans this was quite thick and knurled but more recent cans used a thinner, milled edge cap.

The significance of the base letter/number is not clear at present . The stampings are poorly done and can be difficult to decipher.It is probable that the letter is a production control indicator.

Notice that the brass tip is not painted.

The red and mid green cans appear to be the commonest although several dark green cans have become available recently. These may be older.


The light blue cans are seen from time to time but black cans are rather rare and may well all be repaints.I have also seen yellow , grey and aluminium paint examples but I am pretty sure they were all repaints. 

I have also seen a old style can in "Mamod Green" but with a Sutcliffe transfer.

Odd as it appears from the state of the button to be unused which implies a repaint.


There are at least two versions of the old style can around in Mamod livery although the shade is different to the very light green of the official can. These are probably resprays. It is noticeable that they often have  brass tips which are invariably painted to match the body.

The body pressing appears to be inferior to the Sutcliffe can and this may indicate a different manufacturer, possibly using the original Sutcliffe tooling.

The more recent example, above, appears to use the same shade of green paint as the recent upright "Mamod" oilcan.

Another is in the red of the other upright can

With the availability of replica Mamod transfers a cottage industry of repainting Sutcliffe oil cans has developed and some of the more recent creations seem to match the original Mamod paint scheme more accurately.


Others seem to have been given a quick wipe and a new transfer

Others seem to be going off down the road of "collectibles" with recent specimens sporting presumably spurious Castrol and Pratts insignia


Pretty but clearly repaints.

Polished steel cans.

There seems to be a fashion among oilcan collectors to polish them. The example below was once red.

Nickel plated cans?

A recent, very shiny can appeared on ebay that was described as the very rare nickel plated can. It was certainly very shiny and, if merely a polished steel can, had been very well polished. Although the photographs were rather over-exposed it appeared to be similar in design to the uncommon yellow can which rather supports the theory that it was supplied in a plated condition. Perhaps these cans, being sought after, stimulated the rather odd idea of polishing the basic cans rather as the desirability of the official Mamod can has led to the repainting and transferring of ordinary Sutcliffe cans.

Pump type Sutcliffe cans.

Although the standard Sutcliffe cans are often referred to as Pump type cans the button merely releases the oil. Cans that forcibly eject the oil can be distinguished by the brass insert around the plunger button as below.

An example I have seen carried a distinctive transfer "Sutcliffe Minijet Oiler" and the base was impressed "Made in England".

All the examples I have seen have been a light green. I suspect the example at the top is a lighting effect and is actually green but I stand to be corrected.

The availabilty of pump type and standard oil cans obviously caused some confusion and some of the later standard cans carried a warning label on the base.

 The Mamod Official Oil Can.

For a short period Mamod marketed an official Sutcliffe made oilcan. The can was to the later design with T shaped oil release button, red plastic filler cap, no brass tip and the Sutcliffe name embossed on the base. It was painted a distinctive light green.

This was also produced with a black plastic filler cap of lower profile than the red plastic version. This cap is almost impossible to remove without damage to one's nails and was clearly originally designed as a one-trip sealant for pipe fittings and the like. No doubt an excellent example of the way value engineering can degrade a product to everyone but an accountant.

Another example recently appeared on ebay that not only sported a brass tip but had a brass filler cap that appeared to be the earlier large diameter Mamod safety valve. It also sported its transfer on the "wrong" side.  Either a pre-production mock-up or someone's later modification.

A neat job whatever.

Similar cans in pale blue and yellow appear to have been marketed by Sutcliffe, possibly in connection with their range of clockwork boats.

The later version has the same button as the Mamod version and similar embossed details on the base.

Note the different button on the yellow can and the black plastic filler cap on the blue one. The blue version evidently appeared also with a white plastic filler cap similar to the red versions seen on the Mamod cans.

Other branded cans.

So far I have come across two cans with additional transfers on the side. A red one with a Salmen transfer

and an older green one with a rather distinctive imp thumbing his nose.

Salmen are (or were) a well known tool company so it seems reasonable to assume this can was made for them, possibly as an advertising device but more likely for resale. The Imp

may well be a similar trade mark. Any information would be welcome.

Bacon Slicers

A recent Item on Ebay was a Sutcliffe oilcan with the impressed exhortation to "Use Berkels Oil". I have now come across several such cans and they have all been described as advertising items. Berkel are a well known manufacturer of meat slicing and weighing machines and the cans were supplied to lubricate these. The exhortation to use their oil was presumably to prevent the food from being contaminated with unsuitable industrial mineral oils rather than catering grade vegetable oils. They appear to have been supplied unpainted and usually have a "perspiration patina" although I understand that when used in a Butcher's shop the polished finish was a matter of pride (and hygiene).

An earlier  and rarer version merely carried the Berkel name

Berkels also supplied a conical style, red painted, oilcan that bore  similar advice.

 Garden Railway Services, a company that supplied equipment for live steam garden railways in 16mm scale retailed a replica of the small Sutcliffe can a few years ago. 

Although it has the later style push button the filler cap appears to be a screw-in style metal design rather than the plastic push-in version associated with the later cans. There are some minor differences between this can and authentic Sutcliffe cans but otherwise it is a fairly faithful replica.

This replica was also produced in brass with matching brass screw in filler cap and is stamped " GRS Made in China" on the base. 



Non-Sutcliffe Midget Oil Cans

Recent Mamod Oilcans

Coronation Cans

Dealers Display Boxes

Mersey models Oil Can