by Dr. Lori Verderame
In the early years of the 1900s, lunch boxes were simple objects. Typically workers used and re-used metal pails, tobacco, biscuit, or candy tins to carry their lunch to work. As time passed, this cherished object that held a sandwich and a thermos became a pop-culture icon.
Early lunch boxes
The first modern lunch box featured comic strip, film, cartoon, and television characters. For instance, the beloved figure Hopalong Cassidy was the first image to be placed onto a lunch box. The Aladdin Company of Nashville, TN stuck a Hopalong Cassidy decal onto a metal catch-all box and started a fad in 1950. Following Hopalong Cassidy, cowboy Roy Rogers’ likeness was put on a lunch box in colorful lithograph metal in 1953.
Spot the Valuable Lunchboxes
The same lithography process that printed images of peas and carrots, plaid textiles, or woven basket reed onto tin vegetable cans or metal picnic baskets was used for lunchboxes in the 1950s and 1960s.
The mid 1950s Disney lunch boxes appealed to Steamboat Willie cartoon fans and the children of the post-World War II baby boom. For $2.69, the yellow domed Disney School Bus lunch box made by Universal was expensive by 1956 standards. The Walt Disney School Bus lunch box had an image of a bus full of Disney pals including Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Dumbo the Elephant, Jiminy Cricket, Pinocchio, and Pluto. This lunchbox sells to collectors for $500 in excellent condition.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Barbie doll lunch boxes were made of pink vinyl-over-cardboard as were character lunch boxes featuring Scooby Doo and the whole gang from the Mystery Machine Volkswagen Microbus. These lunch boxes command $150 to $350 on the vintage collectibles market. Other famous TV stars smiling on the side of a lunch box like the Munsters, the Fonz, and Laverne and Shirley would all bring big bucks from collectors too. And, the 1980s offered those who lunched to carry a Cabbage Patch Kids lunch container with a can of New Coke and Pop Rocks inside. Today’s lunch boxes feature popular characters like Bob the Builder, Elmo, and Dora the Explorer.
Dr. Lori’s Lunchbox
Wondering about my childhood lunch box? My favorite one was a Snoopy and Woodstock domed lunchbox in bright yellow plastic with a red handle, circa 1975. The plastic snaps were easy on little fingers and I used to store my swim goggles in it for swim team practice, too. It’s worth about $50-$75 today. Yes, I’m going to say it… to me, it’s priceless!
Request an online appraisal for your vintage lunch box from Dr. Lori.