Outlandish lunch boxes on list of hot collectibles

Andrew Leckey

September 24, 1993|By Andrew Leckey | Andrew Leckey,Tribune Media Services

Peace and love. Disco forever.

The counterculture 1960s and the polyester 1970s have spawned a hot collectible market steeped in nostalgia and relentless television reruns.

Collectors include not only Baby Boomers seeking to relive their past but also members of so-called Generation X, still in their 20s.

Recent price run-ups in such memorabilia include anything and everything, with the greatest premiums paid for the outlandish or items tied to popular characters. They originally cost little, and it's still possible to hunt some of them up for a song if you know what you're doing.

A 1961 lunch box depicting cartoon characters Beany & Cecil now commands $400; a 1972 Partridge Family example brings $75. Several years ago, they went for one-fourth those prices.

"I have bought 140 lunch boxes, from Roy Rogers to the Brady Bunch, chosen for nostalgia and investment value," said Lionel Baldwin, a 34-year-old energy auditor from Tacoma, Wash. "I love the research and the thrill of the chase at thrift stores, garage sales and flea markets."

A 1964 hand puppet depicting Gomez of the Addams Family is valued at $200, while Beatles dolls from the 1960s sell for $175 apiece. A 1968 Banana Splits game, modeled around Saturday morning TV characters, costs $200.

For die-hard fans of the 1970s "Charlie's Angels" TV show, an authentic can of Farrah Fawcett-brand hair spray featuring her picture is valued at $25. A Farrah Fawcett doll from that era is $18, or $50 if still in its original box.

"It takes about 20 years for items to become collectible, and items with TV's 'The Brady Bunch,' 'CHiPs' or 'Three's Company' have taken off thanks to reruns," said Charles Criscuolo, owner of Flashback Collectibles in Chicago.

In furnishings, an egg-shaped chair from the late 1960s to early 1970s, which permits you to sit within that large oval and listen to speakers while reading by its overhead light, is now $550. A small, round videosphere futuristic-style TV set can bring $225 or more.

Popularity, rarity and condition are the most important factors. Original mint condition and packaging add dramatically to value. Remember, items fall in and out of favor.

"Drug paraphernalia from the 1960s has declined in value and isn't being sold at flea markets anymore, since the public perception of drugs has changed," noted Jan Lindenberger, author of "Collecting the '50s and '60s -- A Handbook and Price Guide" (Schiffer Publishing Ltd., Atglen, Pa., 1993), which costs $16.95 in bookstores. "You don't see anyone looking for polyester suits, either."

Some items from the 1960s and 1970s haven't taken off yet.

"Transistor radios from the 1960s haven't risen in value yet, but I sense a great fever for them among some collectors and expect they'll pick up in the future," predicted Greg Favors, owner of the Berkley, Calif.-based Trout Farm, a store specializing in collectibles.

Depending on your interest, there are plenty of shops, clubs and pricing guides to consult as you seek to build a collection or attempt to trade in items from the family closet. Collect first for fun, since long-term value is always difficult to predict.

"As far as the '60s and '70s are concerned, the more outrageous the item the better, for the more mundane examples won't appreciate as much," explained Martha Torno, co-owner of Modern Times, a Chicago store specializing in furnishings from the deco period through the 1970s. "For example, we sell new platform shoes from 1969 for $110."

Christie's East, the New York operation of the famous auction house, in the past year sold more than $7,500 worth of Pez candy dispensers at auction, 223 robot toys for $250,000 and a Dudley Do-Right lunch box for $2,200.

Kathleen Guzman, president of Christie's East, advises putting aside current popular items as well.

"Start squirreling away 'Jurassic Park' toys in original boxes, as well as 'The Little Mermaid,' 'Beauty and the Beast' and other merchandise," Guzman advised. "Twenty years from now, just like the '60s and '70s items, they'll have more value than you could ever imagine."

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