Thursday, January 19, 2006

Collecting Lunch Boxes

By Christina VanGinkel

Collecting lunch boxes is a hobby that often sneaks up on an individual. They start by seeing one lunch box that reminds them of their days in school, maybe one they had themselves, or coveted from another child. Occasionally, the collection is begun more for a love of the comic book character or television personality that graces the lunch box. You might have been too young or too old to own the lunch box when it was new, but that is inconsequential when you are taken with the graphics anyways! Whatever reason, lunch box collections have a way of growing and expanding without even being aware of the fact until suddenly you are looking for ingenious ways to store and display them, and displaying them is half the fun. The other half is finding them!

Uncovering Hidden Gems

Like many antiques and collectibles, lunch boxes can be found in places such as small specialty shops that sell collectibles. Auction rooms and specialty sales are also good venues to shop. Be prepared to pay a premium price at outlets such as these, as you will most likely be only one of several shoppers that will be wanting to buy a collectible lunch box that has landed on their shelves. Ebay can be a wonderful source, but be prepared to pay top dollar. Other online stores can also be searched, but again, if it is on the Internet, chances are the seller is going to be asking a retail price.

Do not overlook some secondary stores though, that might still turn up the occasional hidden gem of the lunch box under world. Second hand stores, such as St. Vincent DePaul stores and Goodwill, garage and estate sales, junk shops, and small stores that you stumble into when out for a weekend drive. You know the sort, located in some small town, and upon entering, you feel like you have walked into a rummage sale that just runs and runs. Many people may be turned off by stores such as this, but they can be some of the best places to find lunch boxes that have been tucked away for years, just waiting for a closet or kitchen cupboard to be cleaned out.

Remember to check your own parent's basement and attics, or other elderly relatives. Ask your Mom whatever happened to the one you had, as this may prompt her memory of just what she did with those. Just an everyday, ordinary object to those people who do not understand the draw they have on many of us, they might not even remember that they stuck them in a box in the attic, for example, until someone asks about them specifically. While some people do not save things like this, others have a hard time parting with things like a lunchbox, because they felt the item would never really go out of style, so they tucked it away thinking that another child would use it. Now years later, it is a hidden gem just waiting to be discovered by someone like you.


Like any other collectible, condition is important. Rust can be a major culprit of old tin boxes, peeling graphics on some of the newer plastic ones. Finding a lunch box in good condition can be a challenge in its own right. In the end, it will come down to personal taste. I would have no problem picking up a dented and dinged box if it were of a character I wanted, while others may only be interested in those in pristine condition. Other times, you uncover a box and it will leave you shaking your head wondering just what the person was thinking! Take as an example my own mother. She had saved two pails belonging to us kids and used them in the bottom of her kitchen cabinet for years to hold lids from plastic containers. She had actually taken the covers off, and we never did find them. I hope that those you uncover will be in better condition, but my point is you just never know where you might find these lurking, and in what condition.

Display Ideas

Shelving that runs around the top of a room is a good way to display a collectible set such as lunchboxes, especially if the collection is medium to large sized. The shelf provides plenty of display space, open for others to see, yet high enough up to keep them from prying hands of those who will want to handle them. Like any other box, some people will be compelled to open them, so by keeping them visual, but up, you can avoid much of this problem.

If you have a small collection, just two or three lunch boxes, a china cabinet, or an open shelf with a few other associated objects can become a very interesting display. A friend has a Charlie's Angel lunchbox on a small shelf, and hanging next to it is a poster assembled from trading cards of the three Angels. They were two of his most prized possessions from his childhood!

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