I cruised back to junior high school Wednesday to visit a few old classmates.
From a table in a Sacajawea teacher’s lounge, their familiar faces gleamed in Technicolor just the way I remembered: Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers and Trigger, Roy’s stalwart steed.
Jim Parry’s vintage, three-piece metal lunch box collection is a treasure to behold.
Parry, 49, is a delightful throwback to those golden moments of yesteryear we Baby Boomers hold dear. Each day, the social studies teacher packs his lunch in either Hoppy, Roy or Trigger. He carts his grub the way he did growing up in Spokane in the 1950s.
It’s a great attention-getter. Students who can’t recall the teacher’s name, immediately recognize him as “that guy with the cool lunch box.”
Parry figured he’d been fleeced when he got the nostalgia bug and shelled out $25 for the Roy Rogers at an antique fair eight years ago. He never dreamed he was getting in on the bargain basement of a big bucks phenomenon.
Vintage lunch boxes are one of America’s hottest nostalgia-driven collectible crazes. Some boxes that sold for a couple dollars new now sell for $1,000 and up.
A 1960s “Jetsons” box in mint condition, for example, can be yours for $1,200. I can hear everyone stomping off to claw frantically through their attics.
Which means Parry’s cowboys and old Trigger, though not perfect, are nonetheless worth hundreds of dollars. “I guess that means I shouldn’t keep my boxes in the lounge refrigerator anymore,” the teacher adds with a laugh.
Parry and I are from an era when no back-to-school ensemble was complete without a lunch box stamped with a beloved TV or movie hero.
The metallic cubes were school-yard status symbols. Your lunch box told the world who you were and what you stood for.
A box with a cowboy meant you were a strong believer in hanging as an effective way to deal with cattle rustlers.
Science fiction boxes - like the 1952 “Tom Corbett Space Cadet” - pegged you as an adventurous sort who hollered “Zaaap!” instead of “Pow!” when blasting enemies with a finger.
Owning a box covered with goofy cartoon characters meant you one day would grow up to write columns for a daily newspaper.
Today we live in sad lunch-box-impaired times. More kids haul their snacks in sacks, no doubt because boxes are now constructed out of cheap and cheesy plastic.
Ever wonder why?
True story: In the 1970s, states began banning steel lunch boxes after a coven of nitwit Florida mothers assailed them as brain-bashing assault weapons.
These probably were the same evil harpies who yanked the plug on the “Lawn Darts” industry.
The success of the American lunch box is a terrific example of how marketing sorcerers like Bill Gates can get the public to clamor for things we don’t really need.
Prior to 1949, lunch boxes were drab, industrial items carried by bus drivers. Then slumping sales prompted a wily executive to slap a Hopalong Cassidy decal on a simple red box.
The result: 600,000 sales.
Roy Rogers wanted his piece of the six-gun action. Kids went nuts for that cowboy lithographed box, buying 2.5 million of them.
It was a rocket ride to the moon. From 1950 to 1970, more than 120 million lunch boxes were snatched up by the public. No faction of pop culture was missed: “The Beatles,” “Lost in Space,” “Barbie,” “GI Joe,” “Mickey Mouse,” “Star Trek,” “The Three Stooges” …
“It’s like looking at 300 TV sets at one time,” says Eddie “Milton” Steenhard, of the lunch box collection adorning all of the wall space and most of the ceiling of his Spokane Valley home.
Steenhard, 43, is perhaps Spokane’s foremost lunch box aficionado, always on the prowl for a lunch box he doesn’t have.
“It’s everything we grew up with,” Steenhard adds. “They bring back memories. That’s what it all boils down to.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
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