Antiques & Collectibles: These Thermos bottles are cool collectibles

Found with Diane Kerkenbush, Winona, ("The Lampshade Lady") this thermos lamp in her livingroom.

In the 1950s and '60s, a thermos bottle more likely went to school or work in a lunchbox, and during that same time period Americans loved a picnic or outside barbecue, so added the thermos jug.

Today these pretty plaid and geometric patterns of vintage thermos containers are everywhere. I have found them at auctions, estate and garage sales as well as flea markets and antique malls.


The first vacuum flask (thermos), also known as the Dewar bottle, was invented by Sir James Dewar in 1892, but it wasn't known as an actual thermos bottle as we know it today until around the early 1900s, made by companies like the American Thermos Bottle Company, King Seeley, Macomb Manufacturing Company, and Aladdin, just to name a few. Most thermos bottles came with lunchboxes in the 1950s and featured graphics from TV shows, sports teams and rock bands.

What to look for


Collectors today look for the lunchboxes with the thermos — those are a bonus find, since often the thermos lining broke and the bottle was thrown away and no one went to seek another glass liner. Glass liners are sold, so keep this in mind if you find a thermos you like and the liner isn't in a great condition or is missing. Look for a single thermos in metal or a plastic vacuum-flask style in great insulating condition and a lid that doubles as a cup. Search for patterns and geometric styles that appeal to you and that you love. I personally like the red plaids vs. the beige and blue stripe. I think the jugs are good finds, too.

Where to find

Thermos bottles are an easy-to-find collectible. Yes, new thermos bottles can still be found, such as the Stanley by Aladdin and others, but some folks just like buying a thermos in an antique mall to bring back the memories. If you don't want to hunt them out afoot, a thermos can also be found online — but I like to see what I am buying.

A couple of weeks ago I made my hunt to local antique shops in Stewartville on a recent road trip. I found some bottles at the Old River Valley Antique Mall, on South Main in downtown Stewartville, with Chris Rand Kujath, who told me, "Most of the plastic thermos bottles usually come in quick and sell quick. We do carry Stanley by Aladdin that have become popular and those always remind me of my father taking his thermos of coffee to work, fishing or hunting.

"Jugs are very popular at the present time, too and are great for decorating," Kujath said. "We even have a Thermos cooler, a Vagabond, perfect for farmhouse or Glamper decor and a Pelican cooler with a Hazel Atlas glass jar. My favorite jugs are the ones with the glass liners, because they are usually ball jars or Atlas and I love to collect jars since these are very desirable with the jar collectors." (Note: Vagabond Hemp & Co. was bought by Thermos in 1955.)

I then went to Mystic Moon Antiques and Collectibles, 1600 Second Ave., off North Main Street, where owner Al Chihak told me, "The heavy-duty Stanley green bottle are what folks buy to replace their broken ones. Customers also like the picnic jugs. My prices range from $6 up to $30. The older checker bottles or vintage colored ones are bought for decor or used as vases like Lesa Welp does at the Rustic Bloom."

I went next door to the Rustic Bloom to check out what Welp had for bottles there.

"I do have a nice collection of thermos bottles for sale from $6-$18," she said. "I use a lot in floral arrangements and get most from flea-markets."


A final stop, to see owner Sarah Kieffer, of Sarah's Uniques and Jim's "Man"tiques Mall, 912 Whitewater Ave., St. Charles, found several more bottles.

"I do have a lot of old thermos bottles in old picnic lunch sets," Kieffer said. "Quite a few in different sizes and styles that I pick up at different markets where folks who have had them for many years want to pass them on to someone else who can use them. The prices range on these from about $3 to $25-$30, depending on the age, condition and style."

How to display

Some collectors use thermos bottles for what they are intended to be used for — on the go, on a road trip or for a vintage style picnic.

"A lot of campers seem to come in to my shop and purchase them, along with those who own vintage campers and use them to decorate," Kieffer said. "Many people also like to decorate with them in the summer months on an old porch, in the kitchen or in a different display. They're fun to decorate with and still work great."

Diane Kerkenbush, Winona's "Lampshade Lady," said, "I find my thermos bottles at flea markets and other sales. I like to make each custom shade to match the thermos that makes a great light in a camper. A vintage child's thermos found at a thrift shop makes a great night lamp with a custom-made shade to match the thermos in a bedroom."

More information

"A Pictorial Price Guide to Metal Lunch Boxes and Thermoses," by Larry Aikins


"Warman's Lunch Boxes Field Guide," by Joe Soucy

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