I just found this site which features a number of (eBay listed) metal lunch boxes from the 1980s. Ok, so there are some plastic boxes in there too but still a pretty impressive list don’t you think?
Star Trek, Gremlins and my all time favorite The Dukes of Hazzard which is listed for the tidy sum of $135.
In terms of price these are a world away from the collectables of the 1940s and 1950s but for me (as a 30-something) the 1980s decade raises the greatest levels of nostalgia in my heart! Actually, I am slightly surprised at how cheap some of these boxes are. $0.99 for a Mr.T? I wonder if the sellers of these items really know the true value here? I suspect the current owner of the “Vintage 1984 School Days Mickey Lunch Box Rare” does given that they are asking for $225 : – )
One lunchbox that I am really after is unfortunately not listed here. It is the Airwolf lunchbox. Out of the Knight Rider, Street Hawk and Airwolf series I much preferred the latter.
Overall, I think the jury is out on the 1980s as to whether it will become a classic and collectable decade. On the upside there are a lot of people with some real vintage memories of TV shows etc but on the downside there was an awful lot of memorabilia manufactured. I think we will have to wait until “supply” reduces as more boxes inevitably get lost and destroyed before prices will increase. Of course, this is one of the reasons why the tin lunch boxes of the 30s and 40s fetch such high prices at auctions: Supply was severely restricted due to the economic conditions during the Great Depression and the Second World War.
Tin lunch boxes first emerged over 100 years ago during the mid-19th century (David Shayt, National Museum of American History). Originally woven from straw, manufacturers later favored tin as the material of choice due to its robust and durable nature.
An important development in the early 20th century was the use of tobacco tins to haul meats. This, coupled with the subsequent invention of lithographed images on metal gave rise to the huge popularity of the many weird and wonderful tin lunch box designs which became incredibly popular with young people.
By the mid-1930s the first licensed character lunch box appeared on the market. Created by Geuder, Paeschke and Frey it featured a sliding tray, a handle and an iconic lithographed design of Mickey Mouse.
In retrospect, the period that followed this really can be regarded as the heyday for the tin lunch box. In fact everything was going swimmingly until the early 1970s when safety concerns (of all things!) contributed to its demise. Parents had become concerned that metal lunch boxes (by this time stainless steel lunch boxes rather than tin were the most popular) could be used as a weapon by children in the playground. Such was the ferocity of the protest that the Florida State Legislature eventually passed legislation on the issue with other states soon following suit.
Although there are undeniable benefits of contemporary plastic and vinyl designs (watertight, airtight and durable), if you’re anything like me the tin lunch box will always be your favorite! It gives me comfort to know that others share my feelings: Many of the early lithographed designs, especially from the 50s and 60s, have become surprisingly collectable. For example, a mint Isolina lunch box sold for $11,500 in 2003 at Chickens Go Moo, Inc auctions!
Always a sucker for nostalgia my all-time preference is actually for retro-looking shiny metal lunch boxes which were used so much by the American workforce during the early and mid-20th century. This is the design which I use 5 days a week at work. American was literally built on the tin lunch box!
I hope you enjoy this site and share my enthusiasm for a small but in my view important part of our history. I aim to continue building this resource over time and if you have any questions or comments I’d love to hear from you so please don’t hesitate to get in touch. I will reply to all messages.