A baby boomer’s delight: vintage lunchboxes on sale

Dan Sewell
Associated Press
J. Louis Karp opens a case of vintage lunch boxes at Main Auction Galleries Inc., in Cincinnati.

Cincinnati – Look, up on the shelf! It’s Superman. There’s the king of the wild frontier himself, Davy Crockett. And over in that case is Davy Crockett again, except this time he’s Daniel Boone (we’ll explain later). And aaaaay! It’s The Fonz and the whole “Happy Days” family!

A veteran auctioneer has on display a baby boomer delight: hundreds of vintage lunchboxes featuring the heroes of their childhood comic books, TV shows, cartoon strips, movies and more.

Vintage lunchboxes are displayed at Main Auction Galleries Inc.

“I’ve never had anything like this,” said J. Louis Karp, whose family-run business has been part of Cincinnati since the first years after the Civil War. “This is quite different.”

Karp regularly sells large estates loaded with rare artwork, antique furniture and collectibles. He has sold vintage lunchboxes before, but never so many. The private collection’s proceeds will benefit younger generations of the owner’s family.

Weldon Adams, a collectibles expert for Dallas-based Heritage Auctions, viewed the lunchboxes online and said such a large, eclectic sale is a rarity.

“We’ve seen some sizable collections,” said Adams. “Having all of them show up at one time is truly an impressive thing.”

Vintage lunchboxes are displayed at Main Auction Galleries Inc., in downtown Cincinnati.

Younger people who like kitsch are among lunchbox buyers, Adams said, but they are particularly attractive to those who carried them as children because they are a powerful link “back to our identities of who we were as a child.”

Karp has 250 for an auction ending Sept. 30. There are another 200 he’s planning to auction before the Christmas holidays.

Vintage lunchboxes are displayed at Main Auction Galleries Inc.

There are lunchboxes with the late actor Fess Parker, who played Crockett and Boone in separate TV series. There is “The Brady Bunch” and “The Partridge Family.” “The Addams Family” and “The Munsters.” “Nancy Drew” and “The Hardy Boys.” The Bee Gees and Bobby Sherman.

There are lesser-known ones: “Korg 70,000 B.C.” “The Guns of Will Sonnett.” “Goober and the Ghost Chasers.”

Vintage lunchboxes are displayed at Main Auction Galleries Inc., in downtown Cincinnati.

Adams said a “wonderfully obscure” one he noticed was from “Here Come The Double Deckers,” a British children’s TV show. Another is from “Fireball XL5,” an early 1960s children’s science fiction show with a fan cult.

“I’m stunned at the breadth of it,” Adams said of the collection.

Vintage lunchboxes are displayed at Main Auction Galleries Inc.

Bids start at $20 each. Karp shouted upstairs to son Justin, who with his brother Jonas marks the fifth generation of Karps in the auction business, to ask how much different lunchboxes have sold for online.

“Lost In Space” TV series and “The Flintstones” animated series? $225 each.

“How about Popeye?”

“Who’s with Popeye?”

“Olive Oyl, Brutus …”

“Are they in a boat?”

“Yes, fishing.”


Unfortunately, Karp said, many of the lunchboxes lack the Thermos beverage bottles that originally came with them. Those without could draw lower bids.

Karp, 71, reluctantly allowed his sons to bring his auctions into the internet age, and the business takes bids online from anywhere, and by email and phone. But he still enjoys his showroom-floor auctions, seeing the competitors watching one another, and the winners who finally emerge after rounds of tense bidding.

And this Sunday, he might just see some with tears in their eyes.

A vintage lunch box is handled at Main Auction Galleries Inc.