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It's Lunchtime: Vintage Lunch Boxes

vintage lunch boxes

This week, we’re going to take a look at another vintage collectible born out of necessity, the lunchbox.

When I was in elementary school, the kind of lunchbox you had quickly determined your place on the social ladder. Kids are strange, right? While my friends were bringing in Batman and Star Wars lunch boxes, I was fortunate enough to carry around my dad's old metal Stanley lunchbox. All I was missing was the hardhat, and it would look like I was headed to a construction site rather than going to 3rd grade.

The story of how the lunchbox came about is pretty simple. In the 1800’s, most Americans were working outside of the home in an industrial setting. It became harder for them to go home for lunch, so they needed a way to take food from home to work. Working 12 hours in a factory didn’t exactly leave a lot of time to run home for lunch. Before lunch boxes came about, kids would often recycle old biscuit and tobacco tins to use to carry their lunches to school.


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Let’s fast forward to 1935 when the world was introduced to the first licensed character lunch box…. M-I-C-K-E-Y...M-O-U-S-E! Even though this was the first box to come out with a familiar face on it, it took another 15 years or so before the Mad Men figured out that appealing to a younger audience could bring in the big bucks. TV was growing in popularity in the 1950s, so Aladdin Industries decided to print more pop culture figures on its lunch boxes.

Unveiling character lunch boxes like Hopalong Cassidy and Superman created a home-to-school food frenzy. With new TV shows coming out all the time, Aladdin knew kids would want to keep up with the trends. Therefore they started pumping out new character lunch boxes all the time. Over 120 million boxes were sold in the next two decades. That’s a lot of PB&J!

As time went by, more and more companies started releasing their own pop culture lunch boxes and redesigns and different ways of embossing the designs to give them more of a 3-D look. When you combined a stylish lunch box with a matching thermos, you got a lunchtime accessory that every kid in America wanted.

Which lunch boxes could score you a nice payday in the resale market? Let’s take a look at a few!

Mickey Mouse Lunchbox(1935)

It doesn’t get much better than the original! This lunch box was created by the Geuder, Paeschke & Frey Co in 1935 and are among the rarest pieces out there. These are really difficult to find, but if you’re lucky, you can find them. The few that I have found online are going for around $1500.00.

Toppie Lunchbox(1957)

This is an interesting one with a really cool backstory. Back in the day, Kroger would give out reward stamps with your grocery purchase, and you could then exchange those stamps for prizes. This Toppie lunchbox was among the prizes you could redeem them for. There are said to be less than 12 of these in existence today, so chances are you’re not going to find one in the wild. However, if you come across one, they’re going for well over $5,000.00 in the resale market!

Superman Lunchbox (1957)

Vintage Superman items always bring a premium, and this lunchbox from 1954 is no different. This particular design was extremely popular but was only available in a limited run. These can be found relatively easily and range in price from $900 to over $13,000 depending on the condition.

There are many great resources online to find value on some of the more rare boxes that were made. We have seen several sales come across EstateSales.NET that feature vintage metal lunch boxes, so keep an eye out on your Treasure Tracker or the Marketplace. If you’re ever in the Columbus, Georgia area and are just itching to learn more about these pieces of pop culture history, stop by the Lunchbox Museum!

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