Carry On: Results of Tin Lunch Box & Tin Toy Collection at Bodnar’s Auction Sales
Hungry to learn about an interesting, novel, and nostalgic collectible category? Then consider vintage tin lunch boxes! Many of us (of a certain age) remember picking out a new lunch box decorated with our favorite TV or movie stars, cartoon characters, or superheroes at the beginning of each school year. Now, many of those vintage totes are capturing the eye of collectors worldwide. Bodnar’s Auction Sales of New Brunswick, NJ offered over 130 fine examples of mid- to late-20th-century lunch boxes as part of its March 9, 2023 Pushing Tin! Estate Tin Lunch Box & Tin Toy Collection. Here are some eye-catching highlights from that childhood-inspired event.
The top lot in this sale was #71, a vintage Kiss tin lunch box with its original Thermos and paperwork. Estimated at USD 100 to $300, it traded hands at $442.50. This example from 1977 was marked Thermos Division King-Seeley Thermos Co. 1977 Auction Management Inc. The front, back, and sides of the box were decorated with color images of the band in full makeup and stage costumes. The red, yellow, and white plastic Thermos featured a cartoon-like drawing of Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley, and Peter Criss– the original group lineup– in black, white, and red. The box closed on the top with a yellow plastic clip and featured a matching yellow plastic handle. This example was made the year that Kiss first played at Madison Square Garden, a sure sign that it was well on its way to superstar status.
Kiss was formed in 1973 in New York. The members branded themselves through their over-the-top makeup, outrageous outfits and footwear, and theatrical, sometimes shocking, live concerts. Each member had their own fantasy alter ego on stage: Stanley was the Starchild, Simmons was the Demon, Frehley was the Spaceman or Space Ace, and Chriss was the Catman. Considered to be one of the best-selling bands of all time with over 100 million album sales worldwide, the band’s four founding members were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014.
Lunch boxes featuring superheroes from legacy comic strips also performed well in this sale. Lot #50, a Batman and Robin tin lunch box with its original Thermos and Thermos holder, was estimated at $100 to $300 and realized $354. It was marked 1966 National Periodical Publications. Aladdin Industries Incorporated, Nashville Tenn. USA. The box and its matching Thermos were decorated on all sides with illustrations of the dynamic duo fighting crime and doing heroic deeds. The inside of the front panel had school manners and safety tips printed in black. The round Thermos had a black plastic lid and cup. The box closed on the top with a metal clip and spacers and featured a black plastic handle.
The Batman and Robin comic book series debuted in 1940, while the live action TV show Batman debuted in 1966, the same year this lunch box was produced. The program was an immediate sensation, launching Adam West (Bruce Wayne/ Batman) and Burt Ward (Dick Grayson/ Robin) into instant, and lasting, celebrity status. The TV show was targeted to teens and always presented its stories in campy, simple ways, stressing high moral standards and civility. This perhaps explains why this lunch box included its “good citizen” messaging on its front inside top.
Also catching the eye of collectors were a number of lunch boxes based on influential television programs of the 1960s and 1970s. These boxes were often produced during the height of the show’s popularity, which makes perfect sense from merchandising and licensing perspectives.
The first, lot #57, an Adam-12 vintage tin lunch box with its original Thermos and Thermos holder, was estimated at $100 to $300 and made $295. It was marked MCMLXXII by Adam-12 Productions. Aladdin Industries Incorporated, Nashville Tenn. 37210. This box and its matching round plastic Thermos were illustrated with wholesome scenes of Los Angeles police officers Pete Malloy and Jim Reed out and about with their cruiser, named “1-Adam-12.”
Adam-12 ran for seven seasons, from 1968 through 1975. Episodes were written under the guidance of the Los Angeles Police Department with the goals of reflecting– as accurately as possible– the people, infrastructure, culture, and language of the law enforcement community to the viewing audience. The cruiser itself was considered a character in the series; the vehicle was updated five times over the course of the show’s run.
The second notable TV-themed lunch box from this sale was lot #42, an H.R. Pufnstuf vintage tin lunch box with its original Thermos and Thermos holder. Estimated at $100 to $200, it sold for $265.50. It was marked Marled Aladdin Industries Incorporated, Nashville Tenn. USA. 1970 Sid & Mary Krofft Productions Inc. The box and matching yellow and black plastic Thermos were illustrated with fantasy-style action scenes from the program, which featured humans and life-sized puppets to bring its tales to life.
Unlike Adam-12‘s multi-year run, H.R. Pufnstuf only ran for one year, 1969, and had only 17 episodes. The title of the program refers to the series’ anthropomorphic dragon named H.R. Pufnstuf, the Mayor of Living Island, where the stories took place. This quirky, short lived series has been ranked #22 in 2004 and #27 in 2007 on TV Guide’s annual Top Cult Shows Ever award list.
Finally, lunch boxes with video game themes scored well in this nostalgic sale. Lot #79, a
Pac-Man vintage tin lunch box with its original Thermos, paperwork, and tags, was estimated at $75 to $150 and shot to $265.50. It was marked 1980 Bally Midway Mfg. Co. Aladdin Industries Incorporated, Nashville Tenn. 37210 USA and was in almost as-new condition. The box and coordinated yellow, tan, and white plastic Thermos were decorated with various symbols associated with the maze-action game, including Pac-Man, four colored ghosts, and fruit icons.
Since its release in 1980, Pac-Man has evolved into one of the most lucrative and popular video games ever, with over $14 billion in revenue and 43 million units in sales combined to date. It was designed to appeal to both men and women, as well as kids, with its playful and colorfully hued characters. The game’s name, Pac-Man, is derived in part from a Japanese expression for “gulping down something quickly.” This tin lunch box was just one of thousands of licensed items produced using the game’s iconic theme, branding, and mascots.
For more information on this event, visit Bodnar’s Auction Sales.
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