Tin Lunch Boxes HQ: Great Nostalgic & Retro Designed Metal Lunch Boxes!
– The Metal Lunch Boxes Store
– Collectors’ Price Guide Reviews
Please enjoy your stay and let me know if you have any comments or questions!
Tin Lunch Boxes HQ Founder
Here on the Internet, the power of video is growing by the day. Whilst the written word still rules in some people eyes, here at Tin Lunch Boxes HQ we think it is sometimes nice just to sit back, be lazy and watch a few flicks! On that note here are some of our favorite online lunchbox videos:
Lunch Boxes Rock!
This 6abc news item features some interviews with random people on the street reminiscing about their childhood lunchbox experiences and also mentions the Leave It To Beaver special edition box.
Actionrep’s YouTube Channel
Actionrep is a true enthusiast and in this 4 minute video he gives a nice tour of part of his collection featuring boxes from the 1980s. This period was of course the decade of the personal computer and you can see boxes from the Pacman & Dragon’s lair video games in this video.
Check out his channel here for more discussion about 1960s and 1970s lunch boxes. We are big fans of his videos!
Beatles Lunch Box on the Collector’s Channel
A very short video this one, 54 seconds on the mass merchandising of Beatles memorabilia during the mid-60s.
Finally, here is a slightly crazy but fantastic video from stand up comic Louise Palanker who gives a little tour around her home including her fabulous lunch box collection. Flipper, Bee Gee’s, Gunsmoke, Happy Days & Little House On The Prairie are all featured here.
The Tin Lunch Boxes HQ Team
As we’ve mentioned previously on this blog, people who are searching the internet for “metal lunch boxes” – or similar and related phrases – are usually interested in either buying a lunchbox for day-to-day use, or, are collectors looking for information on auctions or prices.
With this in mind it is interesting to delve a little deeper into the trends and demographics of these online searchers.
How do we do that, I hear you ask? Answer: Google Insights!
Google Insights is a free and fascinating little tool which tells you all about how many people are searching for a given phrase and how the trend changes through time. Finally, it allows you to see where people are making those searches, e.g., in North America, Australia, Europe, etc.
So for a little bit of fun, let’s take a look at some of the more common phrases that people would search for in our area of interest.
First, if you go to Google Insights and enter the term “tin lunch boxes” then you are presented with this graph:
Now, all very interesting you might say, but what does this prove? Well firstly we can see that the long term trend is fairly stable through time. However, what is very apparent are the spikes which seem to occur in the second half of each year. This of course confirms what many of us lunch box enthusiasts know already, which is that interest peaks during the back to school period that runs approximately from late July to early September.
If this data is correct – and we’ve no real reason not to believe it – then it shows that web searches on this phrase peak in August every year and are in fact more than double the level of the rest of the year! For collectors, this is very important as many of them have said that they see auction prices for vintage pieces increase in the weeks during and after this period.
The tool also allows you to display more than one search term at a given time. The following graph shows a comparison between the previous one (in blue) and the search phrase “metal lunch boxes” (in red):
We can see that this new term shows the same seasonal pattern but has a greater number of total searches.
Finally, the output shows the “regional interest” and again this quantifies what many of us already suspected – namely, that the interest in this collectors’ niche is predominately US based:
Obviously, the good folks in the United Kingdom also have a passing interest too! It would be great to delve further into this and look at trends for individual designs like “Mickey Mouse lunchbox” or “Hello Kitty Lunch Box”, but unfortunately the Insights tool tells you that there is not enough data!
After publishing the two recent articles on tuned..
However, in the process of my research I came across this lunch box quiz which is a lot of fun and actually has some really good questions. I definitely learnt a lot, but I’m too shy to tell you my score!
You can check it out here (only takes 3 minutes):
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Alongside American Thermos and the fantastic Aladdin Industries, the Ohio Art Company became known as one of the “big three” lunch boxes manufacturers during the 1950s.
The roots of the company were formed by Henry S. Winzeler, a dentist and art enthusiast from Archbold, Ohio in 1908. In the early days it was mainly picture frames and other novelty items that rolled off the production line. Gradually, as printing and lithograph technology evolved towards the end of the First World War, Henry moved into the toy business adding in windmills, drums, tea sets and of course the famous “climbing monkey”.
Ohio’s success continued during the interwar period and a year after incorporating in 1930, they paid a $6 dividend to shareholders. Steel restrictions from 1942 to the end of WWII shut down the company’s toy manufacturing processes which were converted – albeit temporarily – to produce technical parts for the military.
By the 1950s, the metal lunch box craze was in full swing and Ohio, who had a background in lunch pails (the precursor of “modern” metal lunch boxes), played a significant part in it. Business was healthy and the profits from this period enabled Henry to pick up on an idea developed by French inventor and electrician Andre Cassagnes which later evolved into the all-time classic children’s toy, the Etch-A-Sketch system.
Today, Ohio Art has two main business divisions. The first is still centered around Etch-A-Sketch plus other popular toys, and the second remains focused on the metal lithography technology which propelled the mass lunchbox popularity of the 1950s.
Whilst arguably not as well known as Aladdin Industries, there is no doubt about the quality and collectibility of Ohio’s lunch transport products. Here is one of the company’s vintage pieces, a rare 1982 Jack & Jill box from 1982. This particular example was listed on eBay for $125:
During the 1950s, Aladdin Industries established itself as one of the most prominent creators of lunch box art. But how did the company achieve such prominent status, what happened to it and where is all the artwork now?
1. The Growth Of Aladdin Industries
Founded in 1908 by a Chicago soap salesman named Victor Samuel Johnson, the company received its name from its main product, the kerosene “Aladdin’s” lamp. After successfully diversifying into cooking jars and dishes, Mr. Johnson sadly died in 1943 and was succeeded by Victor Johnson Jr. who diversified further into metal lunch box production and relocated the company to Nashville, Tennessee in 1949.
By the late 1940s and early 1950s, executives in the entertainment industry had begun to heavily push the merchandise possibilities of their movie stars and TV cartoon characters. Usually, this meant partnering with manufacturers who could mass produce such items. Back at Aladdin, this trend was spotted very early on by Mr. Johnson Jr. who was keen to put Clarence E. Mulford’s Hopalong Cassidy character on one of the company’s boxes. However, this idea actually got delayed until Vernon Church, Aladdin’s new sales manager, fully saw the potential, arranged a licensing deal and got the product to market. The artwork itself was designed by Robert O. Burton.
2. What Happened To Aladdin?
Leaving aside the small “slip up” of turning down a licensing deal with Roy Rogers, who later went to have tremendous success with rival American Thermos, Aladdin continued to do well. Although the heyday of the metal lunch box was largely over by the late 1960s or early 1970s, Aladdin grew its business organically and through an acquisition which strengthened its offering in the meals and drinks container market. The company’s success continued until the late 1990s when there were a number of poor management decisions. These would eventually prove catastrophic and in 2002 the Nashville operations closed its doors. Fortunately, in the same year, the firm was bought by Pacific Market International who turned the company around such that today it continues to thrive! It is a testament to the strength of the Aladdin brand that PMI decided to keep its original name.
3. So Where Is All The Aladdin Lunch Box Art Today?
Well firstly, according to the Lunchbox Collector’s 2011 Price Guide, there is probably a maximum of around 1,650 pieces of metal lunch box art that ever existed. This is because there were around 550 boxes manufactured between 1950 and 1987 with a maximum of 3 individual pieces of artwork on them (front, side and back). Crucially, it is suggested that approximately 80% of factories destroyed their art when they closed their doors years ago. So basically, there just isn’t much left and accordingly original artwork can easily fetch upwards of $1,000.
As far as Aladdin goes, the majority of their art was donated to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History based in Washington D.C. You can see their lunchbox inventory list online which was written by Alison L. Oswald in December 2003.
In a previous post I discussed 3 prominent lunch box museums which are based in Ohio, California & Georgia. However, in researching that article I have since realized that I managed to overlook one other collection which is absolutely stunning! This bumbling oversight on my part (for which I apologize profusely) means that we can now add Eastpointe, Michigan to the list of notable US-based museums.
The collection in question is owned by Dan Zieja who owns the Melodies & Memories record store near Detroit. Containing over 3,000 pieces it is open to the public and Dan himself claims that it is the largest of its kind in the country. I won’t dispute this (although Allen Woodall from the Lunch Box Museum in Columbus might do?) but what is for sure is that it contains some absolutely awesome pieces.
Rather than go into the specifics here it is probably better for you to head over to this Wired article written by Chuck Squartriglia which has a great interview with the main man himself as well as some fabulous photos taken by Jim Merithew.
There is some interesting history here and more examples of the dome boxes that Aladdin introduced in the mid-1950s. As some of you know I’m a real 80’s fan so this one has to be by far my favorite from the photos in the article:
Following on from the recent post on buying tips for metal lunch boxes, I thought it would be helpful to discuss a few resources that provide some guidance on valuations. In other words price guides!
Now in its 17th edition this best selling guide provides guide prices and extensive descriptions for over 32,000 toys. New editor Justin Moen has also included a special 16-page report on toys from the 1980s. For us lunchbox enthusiasts there are many of the post-Second World War classic boxes listed.
If you have a strict budget then this report from the LunchBoxCollector.com might be a good option. At just $3 you don’t even have to wait for postal delivery as it is a downloadable document that is delivered by email. It provides estimated valuations of metal lunch boxes from the 1950s to the 1980s and includes many full color lunchbox photos. The website also offers a couple of other eBooks including the 2011 Original Lunchbox Art Photos & Price Guide and the 2011 Lunchbox Collecting Information Guide.
Slightly more expensive at $89, this guide looks nothing less than amazing! Whilst collecting usually focuses on items from the US, the interesting thing about this book is that it covers pieces from no less than 9 different countries. This looks like great stuff (albeit pretty expensive). However, just one word of caution: If you are considering this then please take a look at some of the reviews on the link I just provided. It looks like there is some poor feedback on delivery times.
There are other price guides that I’ve found but I thought I’d keep this post short and stick with just these 3 as they seemed the most appealing to me.
I have just ordered the 2011 E-Guide myself so stay tuned and I’ll let you know my opinion on it in a future post. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear from you if you own any of these products before. Please do leave your comments below!
UPDATE: Thanks to Gisela for contacting me and letting me know about this price guide list which she has created: http://www.greatestcollectibles.com/lunchbox-price-guide/
If you type the phrase “metal lunch boxes” into Google or a similar search engine then you are probably looking for one of two things: Either you are interested in collectible lunch boxes or you just wish to purchase a product for everyday use.
Of course, purchasing a box is very straightforward. There are a ton of specialist retailers that you can find online as well as more generic sites such as Amazon and eBay which have many items listed.
However, getting started in collecting metal lunch boxes is somewhat harder as although there is plenty of information available it tends to be widely scattered so finding exactly what you are looking for is often difficult. With this in mind here are 3 tips for all of you who are thinking about starting a collection:
1. Check the Vintage & Cross Check the Price.
Prices on online auction sites can be a little baffling sometimes. Often the seller has discovered a long lost lunchbox in his or her attic or garage and has decided to sell to raise some extra cash. In these cases list prices may be inappropriate and although this means that they are often too high it is sometimes the case that the seller has not realised the true value of the piece they are selling! For this reason rule #1 is to always cross check prices! For example, if the box is listed on eBay then try checking on Amazon and vice versa. If in real doubt then consider consulting a price guide.
2. Consider Seasonal Factors.
The prices of vintage metal lunch boxes can fluctuate throughout the year. The time at which prices are most likely to be inflated is during the Summer Back-to-School period. This is of course when parents are busy equipping their children with all the kit they will need for the new school term and this of course includes lunch boxes! I would speculate that this process invokes a certain degree of nostalgia in many parents who then proceed to go hunting for vintage pieces on the net!
3. Watch Out for Reproductions
Many of the classic vintage pieces from the 1950s and 1960s proved so popular that they are still manufactured today. The giveaway is obviously if you find more modern vinyl or PVC boxes but sometimes replicate metal lunch boxes are still made. Some examples, include Disney School Bus, Hopalong Cassidy and the Roy Rogers metal lunch boxes. In terms of the latter a total of 7 version were produced in the years to 1957. So if you were interested in buying one of these then take some extra time to make sure of the exact year.
Good luck, and please don’t forget to leave your thoughts in the comments section below!
It is a testament to the popularity of lunch box collecting that the United States is home to several lunch box museums. Generally speaking they have a fairly low profile and so I thought I’d mention three of them here at Tin Lunch Boxes HQ so you know to call in next time you are passing by!
Clarke’s Collectibles Lunch Box Museum
This wonderful collection of over 700 boxes is Debbie Clarke’s creation. Debbie is a retired teacher and her website has several fantastic photos of parts of her collection as well as the museum building itself. Although the site is perhaps a little thin on detail she is also an active trader on eBay where there is some more information about her life and how she got started. You can find that here. As for the museum itself, it is located at 3674 E Hwy 20, Nice, California, Lake County. The building was the old Nice firehouse and was transformed by Debbie and her husband Duane. Please note that it open for private tours only which can be arranged directly with Debbie by calling 707-274-9952.
Etta’s Lunchbox Cafe & Museum
LaDora Ousley originally starting buying up lunchboxes in order to store cassette tapes. This clearly blossomed into an extensive collection now consisting of well in excess of 800 items! It looks like a great place to visit because not only do you not have to pre-book but you can also enjoy a bite to eat in the adjoining cafe. I suspect that looking at all those lunch boxes is enough to make anyone hungry! Here is a great You Tube video filmed in the Museum in New Plymouth, Ohio:
Last but certainly not least is Allen Woodall’s Lunchbox Museum in Columbus, Georgia. Whilst in no way diminishing the fabulous achievements of Debbie and LaDora it has to be said that Allen’s collection is simply massive! So big in fact that it holds the record for the largest collection in the world! The museum is situated above a country-music radio station inside the International Marketplace, 318 10th Ave. Columbus, GA. 31901. This is probably the ultimate destination for us lunch box enthusiasts, partly because of the sheer size of the collection but also because Allen Woodall himself is considered a major authority on metal lunch boxes having authored one of the few books available on the topic.
I’m sure there are more museums around the world and potential new ones from private collections which could be opened up to the public. I’d particularly be interested in any collections that are located outside of the US. This would be especially interesting because tin lunch boxes themselves are intrinsically American. If anyone knows further information on this, please do leave a comment!