Vintage lunchboxes featuring pop culture characters such as Spiderman, Barbie or Snoopy can add nostalgia and charm to kitchens and recreation rooms. They can also prove to be valuable collector's items.
Before the age of steel, laborers carried latching lunch buckets made from toolbox-grade metal. In the 1880s, children created lunchboxes from colorful tin biscuit, tobacco and cookie boxes. 1935 saw the birth of the first pop-culture-inspired lunchbox, which featured Mickey Mouse, but it wasn't until the 1950s that the Nashville-based Aladdin mass-produced character lunchboxes.
Vintage lunchboxes can be made of plastic, vinyl or metal. Most are square, while others feature a domed top. Many lunchboxes were sold with matching thermoses.
Lunchboxes produced in the "Golden Age of lunchboxes" (1950 to 1987) are often worth more than those produced later. Values can vary greatly depending on theme, age and condition. For example, a 1954 mint Superman lunchbox sold at auction for $13,300, while a slightly scuffed 1978 "Battlestar Gallactica" lunchbox may sell for $30 on eBay. A plastic lunchbox produced in the 1980s may only be worth a few dollars. A lunchbox is usually more valuable when it is paired with its original thermos.
Price guides to determine the estimated value of a lunchbox include Bess White's "Collector's Guide to Lunchboxes" and Joe Soucy's "Warman's Lunch Boxes Field Guide."
Some vendors may state that a lunchbox is "vintage" in order to make the item more attractive to buyers. For example, online retailer Entertainment Earth sells a newly produced lunchbox called "Superman Force of Good Vintage Lunch Box." When looking for lunchboxes manufactured and released in previous decades, be sure to read the product description carefully—or ask detailed questions—before purchasing.
Angela Brown has been a book editor since 1997. She has written for various websites, as well as National Public Radio, Pacifica Radio and more than 20 fiction anthologies. Brown earned a Bachelor of Arts in theater and English from the University of Wisconsin.