Thursday, September 5, 2013

Collecting vintage lunchboxes: What's in your lunchbox?

   When I think back to my own childhood days of back-to-school shopping, perhaps the most important purchase for the academic year was the lunch box. Yes, the lunchbox; that overlooked cafeteria accoutrement that can make or break your elementary school career.

   In my day, the cafeteria was  Grand Central Station of all social activity. It's where playground games were planned and where notes were passed - and if you made a good trade with your oatmeal scotchies, you just might get to jump rope with the cool kids at recess. Carrying the right lunchbox was almost as important as wearing the right clothes, and could even be a golden ticket to landing a seat near the "Queen Bee" who did all the playground planning. Yep, a lunchbox was THAT important.

   My first years of primary school were trial and error and I must confess that the lunchboxes I carried in those early days were not so cool. The first was a red, white & blue U.S. postal service lunchbox (I think my Mom bought it on clearance without me), and I believe my second lunch box was Raggedy Ann & Andy - enough said.
    There were some kids, however, who didn't have a lunch box but used a paper sack instead. My friend Vicki was one of those kids who was so cool that she didn't need a lunchbox. Vicki's brown paper bags were full of goodies like potato chips, pudding cups and Twinkies - things that my mom would NEVER buy. Also, Vicki's lunch bags were always decorated with hearts, smiley faces and little notes written with pink marker that said things like "Have a wonderful day sweetheart" and "You are my sunshine!" Yep, Vicki could definitely pull off a paper bag like no other!

     I have had my share of lunchboxes through the years, most bearing the images of my favorite television shows. Unfortunately, none of those lunch boxes made it through life with me. By the end of the school year my lunchbox was ready for retirement. The broken handles that were glued or wired back together, the worn clasps and hinges, the shattered silver glass in the thermos bottle, and the body badly dented from whacking mean kids over the head all meant one thing: time to  throw it away (such a tragic end to a faithful school companion!).

   Now that I'm an adult I try to buy back the old lunchboxes from my school days along with the ones that I never had but always wanted. Thanks to online auctions I've had much success in finding the ones I'm looking for. My collection is not huge, by any means, but I do have enough to let visitors know that I am fond of them. 

    My kids have developed a love for these old lunch boxes themselves. This Star Wars - The Empire Strikes Back lunch box was a gift to my daughter who proudly carried it with her lunch packed inside during her senior year of high school. My son, who is a big DC comics fan has been in the market for Super hero lunch boxes for many years now, but is tight with his cash and unwilling to yield just yet.

   If you're looking to start your own lunchbox collection, let me warn you that vintage lunchboxes can be VERY pricy. If you find one in perfect shape with it's matching thermos bottle, you can expect to pay around $100 (and higher), depending on the graphics and subject matter. A missing thermos bottle, broken handle, dents, color fading and rust keep prices low enough for folks like me to afford collecting them. Most of my lunchboxes were around $15 - $30 each. Every now and then I'll find one at a yard sale or thrift shop for next to nothing - and that's when I do the happy dance! 

     It's fun to stack them on the floor or display them on shelves - just make sure that you keep them out of the sunlight which will fade the colors fast and decrease their value.   They are handy little containers when you need to store things. I keep my kid's collections of small toys hidden inside - turning each lunchbox into a time capsule of their childhood.
   I'm still on the hunt for Lost in Space, Gilligan's Island, Wonder Woman, the Munster's and the Bionic Woman - wish me luck!  Now it's YOUR turn - what lunchbox did you carry as a kid?


  1. I had Flipper and my brother had Daniel Boone. I don't have my Flipper one but I believe my brother still has his Daniel Boone one.

  2. I was a paper lunch sack carrier all through school. I don't understand how I survived tuna sandwiches that were 3 to 4 hours old and not on ice as well as warm carrot & celery sticks and smelly old bananas. I often had Liverworst sandwiches or cow tongue or heart. Oh, I can't stand the thought of it, but mom was shooting for variety I think. I never had twinkies or chips either. Just fruit & sandwiches & sometimes home made cookies. I appreciate that my mom cared enough to send healthy food and that she packed our lunches every morning. Thanks to my mom.

  3. I was one of those brown paper bag kids. The Italian kids (of which I was one) at school all had grease leak marks on the bottom of their bags. This was a result of the salami sandwiches warming up in their lockers and all the fat in the salami melting a bit and staining the bags. But they sure smelled good and were the envy of all those kids with the PBabdJ.

    I feel bad that your sweet post is not getting the attention it deserves. Please add you next blog post to the thread marked "BLOG BLITZ". That thread will have a current (recent) date as well. eg - last weeks was BLOG BLITZ FOR SEPTEMBER 3RD. If you post it there, at least all the other posters will read it. Thanks.


  4. Mocha Momma - I'm so glad the cow tongue showed up in your lunch rather than mine! My only complaint was when mom bought creamy rather than crunchy peanut butter and jelly instead of jam! :)

  5. Sammys Grammy -
    Thanks for solving that old mystery for me of the greasy lunch sack bottoms! I agree - kids like you WERE the envy of Pb&j kids like me! :)
    I appreciate the info on "Blog Blitz," I'll have to give it a try. Thanks for visiting Whimsybop!


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