Tin plaid picnic baskets are coming back into fashion big time, and this is the time of the year to pack-up a tailgate picnic to take to the local football game. But these can also be considered with the red and black plaid for the Christmas holidays in decorating and storage.

Getting an original tin isn't always that easy, as with most vintage items. And, yes, there are new designs on the market that are reproductions of the 1950-1960 originals such as the Ohio Art plaid lunch box, a reproduction of the plaid tin picnic box that came out in the 1960s and recently sold on rubylane.com. Also sold on this same selling site was an original 1950s Western rodeo theme, tin lithograph, picnic basket style box that has graphics all the way around of a cowboy and cowgirl riding horses, roping and having a great time.

The old picnic tins have wonderful lithographs not just in red plaid, but some look like an original woven basket. Some have pretty flowers on the tin box with a swing handle.

The early boxes from the 1930s to 1960s are a very popular collectible made by NESCO (National Enameling & Stamping Co.). In the 1950s they came out with a new metal box that was insulated, called the PicnicRyte and CoolRyte totes.


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As a collector and writer of this column, my picnic tin collection is mostly from my mother, who collected most anything. She used her tins that took over several shelves in her sewing room to store out-of-season items like scarves and gloves, jewelry and sewing items and was always on the lookout for more in thrift shops.

In my sewing workshop, in some of the same tins that I’ve purchased, I store scraps of fabric, ribbon, yarn and my out-of-season selling items. These look better than plastic bins. I also have a couple in the kitchen that hold my cookbooks and office files.

Melissa Placzak, collector, blogger and author in Red Wing, has the 1950 "Skotch Kooler," a beverage cooler in the traditional red, black and yellow Scottish plaid. "I purchased it at an estate sale in White Bear Lake back in 1995 for around $15," she said. "We love using it as a picnic basket because it keeps our salads, sandwiches, and desserts cold, unlike a traditional woven picnic basket. Plaid picnic baskets are so pretty and festive, especially for outdoor gatherings in autumn."

Where to find

These plaid boxes can be found at antique malls/shops, flea markets, garage sales, thrift shops and auction sites, such as eBay. The actual vintage items can be hard to find in good quality condition since they are made of tin and rust does appear on most tins, but you may be lucky to find one in excellent condition. If you do, be prepared to dish out about $60 or more. A website I like is www.laurelleaffarm.com.

Brenda Jannsen, of Treasures Under Sugar Loaf, Winona, said, "We have in the plaids, the round Skotch Kooler, the Thermos Brand / American Thermos Company except for one that has the dome-top box, that one is Ohio Art. All are ranging in price from $12 to $30."

Joan Thilges, owner of New Generations of Harmony, said, "Currently, we have two plaid picnic baskets for sale. A fun red plaid rectangular basket marked $32 and an unusual round plaid basket at $32. These are quite popular with collectors wanting to add some fun storage to their displays."