Artfulliving Fall 2013

Page 214

spotlight || collecting

PHOTOGRAPHY BY WING TA

Steven Engler Collects: Metal Lunchboxes Also Collects: Little Debbie Snack Cakes

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hen prospective clients visit the Ramsey Engler office in downtown Minneapolis, they sometimes start off “playing their cards pretty close to the vest,” says Steven Engler, who runs the interior design business with his wife, Laura Ramsey Engler. But then he shows them the lunchbox collection that covers an entire wall in his office, “and all of a sudden they’re 7 years old, and the whole relationship changes.” He got started collecting metal lunchboxes about 30 years ago, while visiting a friend who owns a vintage furniture and collectibles business. “He’s taking me through this 40,000-square-foot warehouse, and he hands me this Roy Rogers box, and he says, ‘Do you want that?” Engler recalls. “And I said, ‘Wow, I had that when I was a kid — sure, I’ll take that.’ And then I started thinking, I wonder if there’s some more of these.” He quickly found out there were, though it took some looking to find them. “When I first started collecting in the early ’80s, they weren’t categorized as a collectible,” he says. “There were no books, there were no values, there was no grading. I’d pick them up at garage sales and estate sales.” But that’s all changed: “Now they’re all on eBay, and they’re a known collectible. They’re graded just like coins or anything else.”

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When companies first started making themed lunchboxes in the 1950s, they mostly stuck to Western themes, Engler explains. The first of these, a Hopalong Cassidy box, sits on his top shelf, along with ones emblazoned with images of Zorro and Annie Oakley and Trigger. Then, starting in the 1960s, the themes broadened to include other popular TV shows (examples in Engler’s collection: Star Trek, Get Smart and Happy Days) as well as musical groups (the Beatles and the Bee Gees). The era of metal children’s lunchboxes came to an end when, prompted by incidents of kids bonking each other with them, states started banning them. Engler has the very last model to roll off the production line, a 1985 Rambo in pristine condition. Why a grown man would pay good money for a kid’s lunchbox is not fully appreciated by some — including Engler’s wife. “I tried to explain to her that if you buy a pair of $500 shoes, when you walk out of the store they’re worth $100, and two years later you give them to Goodwill,” he says. “When you buy one of these for $500, they go up a bit every year.” But since she’s still not convinced, Engler’s slowed his collecting the past few years, though he adds: “She did let me get for my birthday last year, this nice Rocky and Bullwinkle one.”


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