Collecting Metal Lunchboxes

You might be surprised, but a metal lunchbox from the 50s or 60s, in good condition can bring a nice profit at auction. “Boxers”, as the collectors are called, are usually people who collect the boxes not only for monetary value, but for memories too. Many of the metal lunchboxes produced from the 1950s to 1970s are covered with collectible pop art, comics, cartoons, and other characters from eras long passed. In the 50s it was Superman, Dick Tracy in the 60s, and even the Beatles and Star Wars in the 70s.

The original metal lunchbox was actually created in the late 1800s. The crude tins and drinking cups would later be turned into collectible items by companies like Disney, Aladdin, and the American Thermos and Bottle Company. The first metal lunchboxes were used by all kinds of people but were really created at the start for miners, loggers, and other outdoor workers. The tightly sealed metal box kept dirt, water, coal dust, and bugs from reaching the workers food while they labored. In the early 19th century the metal lunchboxes were also used by children for school, and by families for Sunday picnics or an outing at the park.

During the “hey day” of metal lunchboxes (1950-1970), having a metal lunchbox meant that you were of a certain status and belonged to a group. After 1950 the metal lunchboxes were widely beginning to gain popularity with school aged children because they were now decorated with familiar television and movie characters. All the kids with money had a metal lunchbox while the rest of us had to put up with carrying our lunch in a paper sack or an old can, if you’re that old.

Most people think collectible metal lunchboxes were made anytime after 1950, but the history actually goes back much further. If you are looking to collect rare pieces you may want to seek metal lunchboxes from 1860 to about 1925. These pieces were usually simple metal boxes that did not have graphics or decals on them. Early metal lunchboxes are collectible because of the history they represent but are nothing compared to the colorful renditions of the 1950s and 1960s. Some of these earlier lunchboxes did not include a thermos or drinking cup, but if you are lucky you will find one that does have one.

In 1935 Disney released some of the first character metal lunchboxes using the company Geuder, Paeschke, & Frey. Because steel production could be a little bit costly, and the boxes were not yet that popular there were only a few Disney character metal lunchboxes made between 1935 and 1937. The most popular of those produced during this time was the oval shaped Mickey Mouse lunchbox that first came out in 1935. At auction you could expect one of these early Disney pieces to sell for anywhere from $4000-$6000, in good condition.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s and the war times of the 1940s not many metal lunchboxes were produced because most funds were appropriated toward reconstruction and the war. This resulted in a limited supply which has turned them into collectors gold. Collectors love these pieces the most because they are especially rare indeed. Later on in the 1950s the American Thermos Company came out with the first lithographed metal lunchbox with a thermos. The first character to appear on this lunchbox was Roy Rodgers in 1953, followed by Dale Evans. Over 2 million of these lunchboxes were sold between 1953 and 1955, but they are still a great collectible piece because they were the first. Up until the 1970s the western theme continued to be popular and other lunchboxes were made for hit movies and televison shows like Gunsmoke and Gene Autry.

During the 1960s some of the best crafted and most collectible metal lunchboxes went into production like the Beatles, Star Trek, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Archie, and Annie. Everything and anything that was pop culture was made instantly into a metal lunchbox, now all complete with a thermos of some sort. One of the most collectible metal boxes from this era was the 1967 Star Trek lunchbox. At the time it was one of the best lunchboxes that you could buy, with neon colors and sharp graphics. Today it may retail for about $500 at auction, maybe more if it is unused.

These metal lunchboxes were so much more than just a container to carry your food in, they are a part of our history. Anything from movies stars, to athletes, and cartoons graces the covers of these boxes, and because so many were produced you can find them everywhere. Sadly, production of metal lunchboxes came to a screeching halt in the mid 1980s with the advancement of plastics technology. The newer plastic models don’t even compare to the works of art that came before them, and collectors don’t want them.

Many people don’t know where to start when searching for metal lunchboxes, and some just happen to stumble upon it one day when looking for something else. Either way it helps if you have some reference to compare to when looking for these great collectibles. Here are some of the best metal lunchboxes to collect and sell at auction.
� Mickey Mouse Oval, 1935
� Hopalong Cassidy, 1950
� Roy Rogers, 1953
� Dale Evans, 1953
� Donald Duck, 1954
� Rocky and Bullwinkle, 1962
� The Beatles, 1965
� Batman, 1966
� Star Trek, 1967 and 1968
� Woody Woodpecker, 1971
� The Partridge Family, 1971
� King Kong, 1971
� Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, 1973
� Kiss, 1977
� Hulk, 1978
âÂ?¢ Charlie’s Angels, 1978
� Muppet Show, 1978
� Dukes of Hazard, 1980
� Pac Man, 1980
� ET, 1982
� Knight Rider, 1984
� Gremlins, 1984
This list is only a suggestion, there are many different boxes that you can collect or sell. Over 400 collectible images and patterns were produced for consumers from 1950 to 1980 and were featured on about almost a billion metal lunch boxes.

You can buy these boxes just about anywhere in the world. Online auction sites are a great place to start, as well as lunchbox trading sites. Other sites like Craigslist and Yahoo Classifieds may help you find a lunchbox or two. You can also find these metal lunchboxes at auctions, flea markets, garage sales, thrift and second hand stores, and also at collector shops.

Always look at the lunchbox in person before you buy it if you are able. If you cannot see the item ask the seller to send you detailed pictures so you can decide whether or not you would like to buy. Remember to think about what boxes are especially popular like the ones discussed, before you go searching and buying. Look at the inside and out of the box to look for rust, holes, or other damage. Mint an unused lunchboxes will ultimately make the best collection or the most money for you.

Also keep in mind how rare the box is that you are seeking. Some boxes were produced millions of times and each one sold. Look for smaller productions like the 1935 Mickey Mouse because only a few copies were made. When looking for movie themes and cartoons be aware that many of them may have been damaged or lost over the years by children all over the world, making them a little bit more collectible because there will be few that are still in perfect condition. Remember when you were a kid and you got your first lunch box with a character on it? You may have written inside of it or put stickers on them and those are not the ones that collectors want.

Have a pre planned budget in mind before you start buying. Sometimes you can get these collectible metal lunchboxes from some unsuspecting garage saler for next to nothing, but when purchasing at auction or a collectible shop don’t expect the same. I always remind myself of this one thing when looking for collectible lunchboxes; if it says vintage on the tag that means the seller wants a lot of money.

Lunchbox Pad
-History of vintage lunchboxes, photo gallery, how to’s and guides, and trading/selling.
White, Carole Bess and L.M. White, “The Collector’s Guide to Lunchboxes“, 2001. ISBN: 1574321943.
-Metal, plastic, and vinyl, 1000+ color photos, general values, and identification. 303 pages.
Woodall, Allen and Sean Brickell, “The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Metal Lunchboxes“, 1999. ISBN: 0764308947.
-Over 500 color photos, list of manufacturers, and care and cleaning. 176 pages.

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