For young student heading earlier to institution each fall, few accessories proclaim your pop-culture tastes as conspicuously together a having lunch box. Since their midcentury golden e and before, the steel carriers not just served as totes because that tuna sandwiches and also bruised bananas, yet have been emblazoned with pictures of teenager idols, characters from movies, TV shows, cartoons and also more—from Batman to Snoopy come the Monkees.

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Nostalgia for the vivid metal boxes has actually driven a solid collecting market. At the self-proclaimed biggest lunch crate museum in the world, in Columbus, Georgia, owner Allen Woodall has accumulated an ext than 1,300 steel boxes. He first got hooked once he bought a 1967 box featuring his childhood radio and comic-strip hero, the eco-friendly Hornet, in the 1980s. That find launched a lifelong collecting habit—one the 83-year-old share with hundreds of visitors each year.

“Most world are looking for the box they can have had actually in school,” that says. “In many cases they don’t remember it until they actually see it in the museum, and also then they irradiate up.”

Kids have always needed to carry lunch come school, however plain old buckets and, later, record bags reigned supreme for decades. Then the 1950s hit, and television shows sustained a golden age of licensing. Follow to lunchbox super-collector Thad Reece, much more than 120 million steel lunch box in 450-plus designs were sold in between 1950 and also 1970 alone. And today a collector can pay up to 10,000 times the original price the a box for the most an useful examples.

Other school supplies, like textbooks, vintage education technology, and also even slide rule can catch collectors’ eyes. But for many, the humble lunch box commands the most interest, with much more than 240 instances gathered in the Smithsonian nationwide Museum of American’s irreversible collection. They’re “fabulous time capsules,” claims Woodall. Here are several of the many desirable—and valuable:


Mickey computer mouse (1935)

This is the lunch accessory that started it all…but don’t contact it a lunch box, says note Bellomo, a toy and also pop-culture expert and also author that Toys & Prices, which consists of one that the most up-to-date lunch-box price guides. “It’s a metal lunch ‘kit’—a semantic distinction perhaps, however a distinction nonetheless,” claims Bellomo.

Produced by Geuder, Paeschke & Frey, a believe toy manufacturer, the oval steel pail fastens together with a cable handle. Mickey and his “Steamboat Willy” friends frolic along the colorful sides. The kit retailed because that 10 or 20 cents—a Depression-era price not all parents could afford. As a result, it’s rare indeed.

Kit or box, the container reflects a turning point in American lunch culture—the first time a license is granted character was used on a having lunch item. “I take into consideration it the divine grail,” states Woodall. Today, it deserve to fetch as much as $2,000.


Hopalong Cassidy (1950)

It took manufacturers another decade or so to establish that license plus lunch might equal large business. In 1950, Aladdin Industries, a lamp firm turned insulated-vacuum-bottle vendor, struck gold once it developed the first real having lunch box with a license is granted character. This box had technology of the own: a equivalent thermos tucked inside.

The box was convenient, however its real appeal was the personality it featured. Wilhelm Boyd, who played Cassidy, was among his era’s superstars. Aladdin sold more than 600,000 that the crate in the an initial year, kicking off a cafeteria phenomenon. Together a result, the crate aren’t precisely rare, though a mint-condition example can market for as lot as $500.


Superman (1954)

Perhaps the most coveted lunch container, produced by Universal, attributes the man of Steel. Bellomo ranks the box—which reflects Superman battling robots and also rescuing a damsel in distress—as the most an important lunch crate of every time, v a mint-condition specimen fetching as lot as $13,000.

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Toppie (1957)

As few as 12 the this rare yellow lunch box space thought to exist today, i m sorry accounts for its high ranking on both Woodall’s and also Bellomo’s list of must-haves. The box could only it is in purchased with top Value Stamps, a commerce stamp offered out by Kroger grocery store stores in the Dayton, Ohio area. The an ext groceries friend bought, the much more stamps you’d accumulate—and you might use them come buy items favor a yellow lunch box featuring the program’s whimsical plaid mascot.