Collecting old cereal boxes is not as flaky as it sounds.
Vintage boxes offer everything a collectible should be. They are colorful, nostalgic, challenging to find, and, in the words of Tony the Tiger, "they're grrreat" to display.
The modern era of cereal-box art began in the 1950s when dozens of new cereals sponsored Saturday morning children's television programs.
"The competition in the grocery store breakfast aisles was fierce, as cereal makers tried to lure youngsters and their parents with the cleverest names, the most colorful graphics, and the best prizes," said Steve Ellingboe, editor of the book Today's Hottest Collectibles. "Nothing, it seems, was as enticing to a youngster as the image of their favorite cartoon character along with the words ‘Free Inside.'"
Because of the supply factor, the older a box is, the better. When one thinks about it, it is amazing that any from the 1950s and '60s have survived. Few reasons pop to mind for an Eisenhower-era housewife to hang on to a box of Post Sugar Crisp or Cheerios.
Whatever the reason, there are more vintage cereal boxes around than one might think. Even more exist from the 1970s and '80s, and boxes from the 1990s are plentiful.
The key to value is the character or personality depicted on the box. In almost every case, a cereal box depicting The Lone Ranger, Superman, Tony the Tiger, Michael Jordan, or The Beatles will be much more desirable than a generic box.
A 1948 Cheerios box with a Lone Ranger Frontiertown cutout is worth $750 in excellent condition. The Batman periscope offer on a 1966 Kellogg's Froot Loops box raises its value to $300.
The 1988 Wheaties First Edition box featuring Michael Jordan appeals to cereal box collectors and sports memorabilia buffs, bringing its value to $100.
Among the more valuable cereal boxes from the 1960s are the Nabisco Rice Honeys and Nabisco Wheat Honeys boxes featuring an offer for The Beatles' Yellow Submarine rub-ons. The Beatles tie-in makes the boxes extremely desirable and worth about $700.
During the 1990s, regionally released Wheaties boxes sported images of professional sports teams and individual athletes. These range in value from $15 for the '96 Atlanta Braves box to $250 for the '91 Rod Carew box.
In 1960, Post Grape Nuts Flakes produced a box featuring a full-panel photograph of Mickey Mantle on the back. That box is now valued at $1,250.
"Also valuable are boxes from obscure cereals that were losers in the cereal wars," said Ellingboe. "Scarce because they were not around for very long, they include names such as Punch Crunch, Fruit Brute, Top 3, and Crazy Cow."
Some of those also-ran brands have attracted a devoted following. Quake and Quisp are two of the favorites. Look for these boxes to command prices of $500 and more.
Also collectible are cereal-box premiums all of those little toys and trinkets that came for free either inside the boxes or by mailing in a box top or two.
Sometimes the premiums were on the back of the box baseball cards, phonograph records, or cutout play sets such as The Lone Ranger Frontiertown.
When it comes to premiums, each generation has its favorites. The old-timers remember classic Tom Mix and Jack Armstrong items. A Jack Armstrong champion belt offered during the 1940s by Wheaties is worth $300. In 1933, Ralston offered a Tom Mix cowboy hat that is now worth $950.
Baby boomers might favor the Wild Bill Hickok Colt six-shooter that was a 1958 Kellogg's Sugar Pops send-away premium. It is now worth up to $165. A 1963 Tony the Tiger stuffed toy offered by Kellogg's Sugar Frosted Flakes is valued at up to $65.
A younger crowd of collectors might prefer the more recent Ghostbusters and Star Wars premiums.
Ellingboe recommends using experience as a guide to determining which of today's boxes might prove valuable in the future. Skip the generic boxes and look for those featuring celebrities, characters and sports heroes. Boxes tied to movies, television shows and special events might also be worth saving.
Once a box has been determined worth saving, open it carefully from the bottom and remove the bag of cereal. Boxes can be flattened by opening both ends and folding them on the factory creases. In this way, dozens of boxes can be stored in a relatively small space.