ENNISMORE — For years, Ennismore’s Dale and Dianne Snelgrove were sitting on a gold mine. They just didn’t know it.

In the early 1980s, Dale — a then self-described “car guy” — purchased a Chevrolet tin oil container from his friend as a decorative item.

He paid $20 for the made-in-Toronto container. Dale, now retired, went on to sell his car, but held on to the tin container, storing it in the basement of his shop.

For more than four decades, the Chevrolet tin collected dust.

That is until recently, when Dale and Dianne reached out to their friend Jason McIntosh, a Peterborough-based auctioneer who works with Doug Mitchell at Mitchell Auctions. The couple planned to clear some space by auctioning off some of their long-held belongings — including the old tin oil container.

“It was just sitting there on top of the shelf and I kept looking at it and I thought, well if we’re taking it to the sale, I’m going to see if I can get $100 for it,” Dale said.

McIntosh added the item on his auction website www.jasonmcintoshauctions.hibid.com — listing the Chevrolet tin for $2, the starting price for all his items.

Almost overnight, the tin container climbed from $2 to a $1,000 bid. That’s when McIntosh knew they had something special on their hands.

Soon, a bidding war began — two avid collectors from the states were vying for the motor oil can. They had already quickly outbid other collectors from Ontario.

Meanwhile, a surprised Dale and Dianne watched the bidding battle unfold online at their home.

“I couldn’t believe it. Then it hit $3,000 and it kind of sat there for a couple of days. Then Jason called me and said, ‘I think this thing is going to hit $6,000,’’ recalled Dale. “I said, ‘no way,’ and we kept watching it. All of a sudden it went up to $10,000.”

“My wife is screaming in my ear,” he added with a chuckle.

After doing some research, McIntosh discovered that the Chevrolet tin is quite rare. The last one sold in 2020 brought in $6,000 at another auction in southwestern Ontario.

On Jan. 14, five days after the auction went live online, the final bid went through: $15,500.

“I was just floored. I couldn’t believe it went that high. I never even dreamt it would go that high,” said Dale. “ I told (McIntosh) if someone came along two weeks before the sale and offered me $50, I probably would have sold it to them because I had no idea it was that rare.”

Dale credits the container’s uniqueness and condition with the “unbelievable” sale price. Estimated to be made in the 1920s or 1930s, the tin oil container was meant to be stored inside cars. Had Dale kept the oil can on the basement floor, its bottom likely would have rusted away — a concern voiced by bidders — but he stored it on a shelf where it was kept in good condition.

The Snelgroves say they’re still processing the unexpected windfall — and what to do with their new funds.

“I haven’t really thought about it yet. I’m still in shock and so is my wife,” said Dale.

Dianne agreed.

“We still can’t believe it; haven’t accepted it. It’s like winning the jackpot,” she said, likening the turn of events to a plot line straight out of the television show “American Pickers.”

The valuable Chevrolet tin motor oil container ultimately went to an Ohio man. According to McIntosh, the collector has seen only six of the tins in his entire lifetime and is excited to be the new owner of Dale and Dianne’s treasured tin.

Brendan Burke is a staff reporter at the Examiner, based in Peterborough. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.

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