You know how it goes. You see your good friends at lunch every
day. Superman. Lassie. Rambo. The Dukes of Hazzard. Yogi Bear.
Then things change. You grow up; they drift away; and soon
they've disappeared from your life.
But one day you run into them again, at the Lunch Box Museum.
They look a bit older; they've got a few dings, maybe even a scratch
or two. But they're still colorful, still fun and still in good
Gee, it's good to see them again. There's the Green Hornet,
Popeye and Rocky and Bullwinkle. There's Flipper, the Waltons, E.T.,
Roy and Trigger and the Brady Bunch.
How could you have ever let them get away?
If Allen Woodall, the museum's owner, has a duplicate, he will
let you buy back one of your old friends.
"We will sell any duplicate," he said. "We do actually buy, sell
and trade. Collectors come here, and kids and their parents."
Woodall says his museum is interactive.
"People can come up here and touch the lunch boxes, pick them
up," he said. "I hear the parents say 'I carried this lunch box;
this was my lunch box.' "
Woodall has been collecting lunch boxes for more than 20 years. A
retired radio broadcasting company executive, he said that as a
youngster he enjoyed listening to Dick Tracy and the Green Hornet.
When he spotted a metal Dick Tracy lunch box at a flea market in
the early 1980s, he snapped it up. Soon he found a second lunch box:
Western star Hopalong Cassidy.
"I just started picking them up; then I discovered other people
were picking them up, too," Woodall said. "There's a lot of history
in these boxes."
It was several years before his burgeoning collection turned into
the Lunch Box Museum; and the museum has occupied several different
sites since it opened.
The display includes more than 2,000 metal lunch boxes and 1,700
thermos jugs. He also collects TV trays from the '50s and '60s,
which have started catching on as collectibles, he said. And he's
also pulled in framed original paintings, the designs for many of
the lunch boxes.
In 2001, Woodall retired from radio and bought and renovated a
20,000 square foot building in downtown Columbus. He reopened the
space in 2002 as a vast antique mall downstairs, and upstairs the
Lunch Box Museum.
The upper floor also houses his new museum, the Museum of
Southern Stoneware, featuring a sizeable collection of historic and
contemporary potters of the South including several from Crawford
County. He's actively seeking more Crawford County potters to
include to help round out a history of Southern pottery book he's
Woodall's lunch boxes in the museum range in price from $10 "into
the hundreds," he said. He has others, not on display, worth much
more. And he has seen one 1954 Superman version sell at auction for
more than $10,000.
Woodall pointed out some of his favorites from the museum
• "Rambo was the last metal lunch
box made," he said. "Production stopped after some mothers in
Florida said they were dangerous." (Metal lunch boxes were outlawed
for school use in 1986 by the Florida Legislature, which termed them
• A Thermette Hot Lunch Box
manufactured in California between 1912 and 1920 has a detachable
electric cord so food can be heated right in the box.
• A Dutch Cottage box made by
Thermos in the late 1950s is "very rare," he said.
Woodall said beginning collectors should check eBay to learn
about pricing of various lunch boxes. Flea markets are a good source
for finds, but yard sales often yield the best deals.
He and a Virginia collaborator, Sean Brickell, have co-written an
encyclopedia and price guide, "The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Metal
Lunch Boxes," with an updated edition published in 1999.
The Smithsonian Institution purchased 20 of Woodall's lunch boxes
and Woodall donated 20 more for "Lunch Box Memories," a Smithsonian
exhibit that opened in 2002 and is booked through 2005 in cities
nationwide. The show has already run in Atlanta and opened last week
in Charlotte, N.C.