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A Beginner’s Guide to Vintage Character Lunch Boxes

Vintage character lunch boxes are a fun find at local estate sales. If you’re looking to start collecting these charming pieces of history, let’s learn a little more about collecting them.

A Brief History

The lunch box as we know it today was created in 1935. Geuder, Paeschke, and Frey, a Milwaukee-based company, featured a new cartoon character, Mickey Mouse, on their “Lunch Kit.”

This turned out to be a brilliant idea, and from that point forward, character lunch boxes were all the rage.

Note that up until the 1950s, lunch boxes were called lunch kits.

What’s Considered Vintage

To collect, the term “vintage” is usually defined as an item that is more than 50 years old.

Collectible Lunch Boxes by Era

The 1930s

It is the 1935 Mickey Mouse Lunch Kit (that’s right, Lunch Kit) that started it all. The oval metal pail also features Mickey’s “Steamboat Willy” friends frolicking along the sides. The kit retailed for 10 or 20 cents, which might seem affordable, but it was not something most Depression-era families could afford. And for that reason, this is a rare find.

Today, this lunch kit is worth around $2000.

The 1950s

The 1950s was also a popular time for Western movies and cowboy characters. With that, the Hopalong Cassidy lunch box. This lunch box/thermos combo, created by Aladdin, was convenient, but the biggest draw was the character. With more than 600,000 sold in the first year alone, these aren’t rare, but one in mint condition can still fetch up to $500.

In 1954, Universal produced its Superman lunch box. This lunch box, featuring Super Man battling robots is often seen as one of the most valuable lunch boxes of all time. One in mint condition could be worth up to $13,000.

Other popular characters from this era include Roy Rogers, The Lone Ranger, and Tom Corbett Space Cadet lunch boxes.

The 1960s

Aladdin also struck lunch box gold with their Beatles lunch box in 1963. By the 1960s, character lunch boxes were standard and were used to boost a brand’s popularity. And a lunch box featuring The Beatles was wildly popular.

While estimates vary, these are worth anywhere between $750 and $1800, depending on the condition.

The popular TV show The Jetsons hit TV screens in 1962, and the lunch box company, Aladdin, manufactured the Jetsons lunch box starting in 1963. If you find one in mint condition, it could be worth $1700.

The 1970s

The 1970s were good enough to bring us the Star Wars franchise, and lunch boxes were a part of the craze. Metal Star Wars lunch boxes made between 1970 and 1979 go for between $75 and $200 on eBay.

The 1980s

The 1980s show a shift in lunch box design as manufacturers moved away from metal lunch boxes to more durable plastic.

In 1985, Thermos produced what is thought to be the last metal lunch box. It featured Sylvester Stallone as Rambo. While it’s only valued at around $350, it’s still a pretty neat piece of history.

If you’re ready to start your collection, come and take a look at one of our upcoming estate sales. We might have something worth collecting.


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