Lunchbox Love - Page 2

Nostalgia, art and history keep fans passionate about the metal pail that once defined their identity
Lunchbox Love
Back in the day, the average kid carrying his lunch to school only owned one lunchbox.
Lunchbox Love
Lunchbox Love
Top: While mom combs his hair, the little guy smirks and keeps a grip on his lunch. Above: Junior gets lunch, his teacher gets flowers.

"Most people who are into the stuff from the '50s and '60s are no longer collecting it," he says. "Many of them already own what they want. Old people are getting rid of stuff."

"Some may buy a mint lunchbox to replace one they have that is scuffed."

Castro, who is just over 60, mentions the boxes he used to own, that reflected his younger days: 'Kung Fu' (Remember that one—with David Carradine?), and professional daredevil Evel Knievel.

"Everybody was jumping bikes, like Evel Knievel," Castro recalls.

Today, collectors for vintage toys and lunchboxes tend to be in their 40s, he says. "That's the people who are buying now, so I have to focus my merchandise on '80s stuff. Transformers, He-Man, Ninja Turtles."

Dealer Andrew Leung has seen interest in lunchboxes fall off among general buyers. Still, he says, there are serious collectors out there who will pay a good price for a desirable lunchbox. "There can be some big money in it if you find the right collector," he says.

"When people talk about lunchboxes," he says, "they're really passionate about it."

But who cares about values skyrocketing? For many buyers, lunchboxes are less investments in the future than an easy, fun, and relatively affordable way to add some retro charm to your home.

The best lunchboxes are beautiful little works of portable art—optimistic, cute, filled with bravery and danger, featuring frilly fashion and puppy dogs and kitties—art that is aimed at children ages six to roughly 14.

"I find lunchboxes fascinating," says Leung, who grew up in the 1970s and '80s in Woodland, California. "As a kid, we didn't have iPhones back then. During lunch I would stare at my lunchbox. I looked at it like a little TV show. I appreciated the drawing and art style."

Leung, who owns Toy Fusion, a collectors store in Sacramento, still has his 'The Dukes of Hazzard' box. "It's somewhere at my mom's house. I don't want to sell it."

 "It's the art that grabs people," Allen Woodall and Sean Brickell wrote in their important The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Metal Lunch Boxes from 1992, a guide that tried to feature color shots of every metal lunchbox ever produced, "front, rear, band, and bottle," in alphabetical order.

One strong appeal of the boxes to young people was simply that they were made of metal, evoking real strength—and opening and closing with that resounding click. /p>

Here were your favorite characters—not on flimsy newsprint, as in comic books or the cover of TV Guide, not in the ephemeral flickering of 35-mm film or the TV screen—but on something solid, utilitarian, intimate, something you carry every day.

Back in the day, the average kid carrying a lunch to school only had a single lunchbox. Moms were frugal, for one thing—especially those who opted for tuna sandwiches and apples from home, versus the 15-cent hot meals served by the school cafeteria.

But even more, your box defined your identity. If you carried a Davy Crockett box, chances are you also owned a coonskin cap. If you carried the Bionic Woman, with art of Lindsay Wagner outracing a muscle car, then you were one tough and resilient gal.

But a collector today needs more than one—and not just to qualify as a collector. It is together, en masse, that the boxes really make a visual statement—grouped, perhaps, with the western shows to one side, outer space boxes on the other, and of course those with a cool mid-century modern vibe front and center.

Seeking out boxes that represent your favorite shows isn't always the best aesthetic strategy. Did you ever hear of the show 'Lidsville'? Probably not, but its 1972 lunchbox is wacky and wild. About the better-known series 'Lost in Space,' Woodall and Brickell write, "The TV show was sophomoric, but the box is a masterpiece. Every inch is a genuine work of art and color."