Tin picnic baskets with wooden or Bakelite handles are making a comeback as an alternative to wicker baskets.
The early tins of the 1930s were manufactured by various companies, including tobacco companies, as they made their tins to be reused once the product was consumed.
Some tins have lids that are hinged and close with a clasp, and others have tight-fitting lids. Air vents, holes or slots on the side allow for air circulation. Since these tin baskets are somewhat plentiful these days, condition is still important.
Getting an original vintage tin isn't always easy, as new designs are on the market that are reproductions of the 1930 to 1960 originals, such as the Ohio Art plaid lunchbox, a reproduction of the plaid tin picnic box that came out in the 1960s. Keep in mind that old tins are not just in the red plaid, but some look like an original woven basket and some have pretty flowers.
I have seen at my workshops folks thinking that the tin floral-on-white or the apples-on-white breadbox without a swinging handle was a picnic box that lost the handle, as well as that some shops were selling a tin picnic box with the handle as a breadbox. Yes, the early boxes from the 1930s to 1950s, to even 1960s, are a very popular collectible made by NESCO (National Enameling & Stamping Co.).
These plaid boxes can be found at antique malls/shops, flea markets, garage sales, thrift shops, auction sites and online. The actual vintage ones can be hard to find in good condition since they are made of tin and rust does appear on most tins. If you are lucky enough to find one in excellent condition, be prepared to spend $50 or more.
If you use your tin basket for carrying food, be sure to wipe it clean after each use and air-dry it completely to prevent rust. I use the rustier tin baskets as cute stacked storage containers.
Sarah Kieffer, Sarah's Uniques & Jim's “Man”tiques, St. Charles: “I love the tin picnic baskets! They come in several different styles and sizes, and are fun to collect. Priced from about $12-$50. They can become a fun collectible and used for summer picnics everywhere! Spring and summer are the most popular time to sell these, but red and green or orange plaid is great for fall, too!”
Joan Thilges, New Generations of Harmony: “We have some awesome picnic baskets. Our fun metal baskets range in price from $25 to $30. One vendor has two highly collectible Longaberger baskets. A smaller is a pie carrier, complete with a pie rack inside, for $45. The other is a large basket called 'Generosity' and comes with a vinyl protector inside and a very heavy wooden lid, asking $150.”
Sandy Erdman is a Winona-based freelance writer and certified appraiser concentrating on vintage, antique and collectible items. Send comments and story suggestions to Sandy at email@example.com.