Sandy Erdman: Love those old watering cans

May 5, 2019

Most watering cans that I have found are those from the 1940s and newer and are either painted or left the gray metal color.

They can be found in copper, brass, tin plated, zinc-coated iron, porcelain and galvanized. The materials can represent different stages of manufacturing. These are now household collectibles, not to be confused with the early filling station cans used for engine fluids.

“Watering cans are beautiful tools, and vintage models are just as useful and attractive as the day they were made, especially to gardeners and collectors.” So says William Bryant Logan in his book, “The Tool Book.”

Plastics started to dominate the market in the 1940s and 1950s, supplanting metal, but these collectibles still bring a pretty dollar depending on the age, design and condition. A common mid-century can can be found for around $20-$30. With advertising displayed on the can, or if it is nicely painted, we can add a few dollars more. Some folks collect a full range of cans while other may collect child-size cans with lithographs. Don’t forget tole painted cans with their decorative finishes.

Tips to know

The typical American-style watering can has two handles — one for carrying and one for pouring. They are made in the English style and often have a large spout and a rose ( the sprinkler head) the size of a doorknob that screws on and off.

Do keep in mind that it is common to find a watering cans without the sprinkler head, so if you find a can with the rose on the can, this will bring you a premium price. One hot collectible can is the galvanized steel watering can that says “Cream City” on the side, a name that was once applied to Milwaukee.

Logan, in his book, tells, “If a watering can does not sit flat or has a convex bottom, that usually indicates it has been left outdoors, full of water, in freezing weather. You can hammer the bottom carefully to make it flat again, but the (permanent) damage might have been done. Freezing sometimes splits the seams around the base, and your watering can might no longer hold water. A bead of waterproof silicone caulk around the inside edge might solve the problem.”

Where to find

Obvious places to find watering cans include antique shops, flea markets and auctions and in various price ranges, but also try yard/garage sales and even look in your grandparents’ garage or basement.

Sarah Kieffer, Sarah’s Uniques and Jim’s “Man”tiques, St. Charles said, “I personally collect the old tin watering cans. I have over 100 of my own, and also sell them in the shop. I got my first watering can when I was a child and still have it today, which probably helped in my getting started in collecting them on my own! I like to find ones with characters or flowers on them. A lot of the old tin watering cans are from a company called Ohio art that put out many different types and sizes and designs. CHEIN also made watering cans and sand buckets. These can be found at many shops and markets. Some of them are very valuable worth $40-$50 apiece. Otherwise you can usually find them from $12 on up. They are fun to collect, easy to display, and are especially cheerful in the spring and summer!

Carol Thouin, the Backyard Flea, Spring Valley said, “I typically have watering cans. They’re popular spring and summer planting items and they’re fun to decorate with, too. Generally in the $8 on up range, depending on size, type and condition. Galvanized items usually sell well because they’re functional and decorative if you like the farm look. Check them out at our next sale, May 17-19, 421 N. Huron Avenue, Spring Valley.”

Joan Thilges, New Generations of Harmony, said, “I have a variety of watering cans in the mall, everything from vintage child-size to old galvanized cans. Prices range from $15 to $45 for a highly collectible child-size watering can.”

Brenda Jannsen, owner of Treasures Under Sugar Loaf, Winona, said, “Watering cans are definitely a hot item … especially during spring and summer! We have tin litho children’s cans that range from $18 for well-loved condition to $39 for excellent condition. We have a cute porcelain watering can/teapot with dainty purple flowers for $20 and a small copper can for $25. One dealer carries new-made-to-look vintage cans for $27. The best-seller at Treasures is definitely the galvanized watering cans, with and without a spout and range in price from $20-$40. Prices depend on size, condition, and uniqueness. Last year we completely sold out of watering cans. There are currently only two in the store. We look forward to seeing many more, though, when the dealers start decorating our front porch!”