A few years ago I wrote a column on vintage sand pails. Now I want to go back and check on the values of these pails to see if they have changed over the years.
Not really too much, as a 1939 Ohio Art Donald Duck sand pail in 2013 was valued at $275 in excellent condition. In 2019, it is still valued in that same range. (In rusty condition, the pail is worth around $75.)
A 1938 basket pail made by J. Chein & Co. sells in a range between $69 and $375, based on condition. And a company known as The Heekin Can Co. created cans from the 1920s to 1940s with a dual purpose: They held items such as coffee, baking powder and more with fantastic designs on the can (pail). Some now sell for around $150.
Value of the sand pail
When determining value, factors include age, the clarity of the design and condition. Condition is an important factor, since sand pails were made to be used in the sandbox and at the beach. Over time, ocean saltwater eats away graphics. We know that sand can be very abrasive and tin pails do rust.
Occasionally you can find a nice sand pail at a garage sale for around $7, but go to an antique stores and flea-market and the price range increases. Certain Disney scene pails can go into the high hundreds.
The ideal pail should have the original handle, and little or no rust or dents. A few books on the market include the “Sand Pail Encyclopedia,” by Karen Horman and Polly Minick, and “Sand Pails and Other Sand Toys: A Study and Price Guide,” by Carole & Richard Smyth.
Galen Lohrenz, with his daughter Angie Pehler, have the Angie's Vintage Rust booth at Treasures under Sugar Loaf Antiques & Crafts in Winona.
“We have over 20 older tin sand pails made by J. Chein, Ohio Arts, Walt Disney and Hanna-Barbara," Lohrenz said. "The tin pails are becoming quite collectible, as most pails are now made of plastic. There are many designs, but most are colorful eye-catching themes with children, cartoon characters, fish, animals, circus and superheroes. The price of our pails ranges from $12 to $85.”
Sarah Kieffer, of Sarah's Unique's and Jim's “Man”tiques Antique Mall, St. Charles: “I personally collect the old tin sandbox pails and shovels. I have over 100 of my own, and also sell them in the shop. I find the most collectible are the ones made in the late '50s to the early '70s. Those include the USA made items from The Ohio Art Company and J. Chein & Co, with fun scenes rendered in bright colors. I particularly like to find the sifters, or ones shaped like a boat with a handle and tin wheels.
"Some of the vintage sand pails can start around $40 to $50 and go up to hundreds of dollars," Kieffer said. "The reproductions you can usually find from $4 to $12, and the plastic the same price. They are fun to collect, easy to display, and are especially cheerful in the summer. I have one little 1950s pail with a little pump that I display in my home, made by the Ohio Art Company. This pail at one time was the cream of the crop! It pumped water out of the top and added it into your sand pail. Today, they are harder to find, as they often are rusted and broke.”
History, manufacturers and identification
The first sand pails, or buckets, were tiny because the tinplate was imported from Wales and only available in small sheets.
As technology improved and the U.S. began to produce its own tinplate, pails grew in both size and availability. The early pails had simple designs and consisted of one or two colors of paint covered with a coat of lacquer to give a glossy finish. Hand painting, stenciling, stamping and embossing were other methods used to decorate pails before the 1900s.
Then, in the 1930s, graphics were applied through chromolithograph, which gets its name from the Greek words for "stone drawing." This process revolutionized the toy industry and turned out more than 50 tin-plated sheets per minute, which allowed toy makers to create detailed scenes on the pails and to finish them in a range of vivid colors.
Many toy makers produced sand pails over the decades. Some did not mark their products, so you must rely on old advertising publications and comparison with other toys made by the company.
What information is available often comes from the designs themselves, like patriotic themes of wars, Victorian pails showing children in period clothing, early airplanes and the world of Disney. The teddy bear appeared in the 1920s, and Western characters like Gene Autry appeared in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Space-age motifs such as rockets appeared in the late '50s and early '60s. The primary retailer in the '50s and '60s was F.W. Woolworth Co.