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QUESTION:  

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated by cereal boxes. I didn’t have a favorite cereal, so I ate just about any kind and got to see a lot of different box designs. My favorite thing was hunting for those with prizes inside. Do people collect cereal boxes? And do they have any value as a collectible?

Thanks,
Jerry

__________________________________________________________

ANSWER:  

You’re not alone. While there aren’t hundreds of collectors of cereal boxes, those that do are somewhat fanatical about it. They, too, remember the boxes from when they were kids. And that’s what drives them today.

As a kid, hasn’t everyone stared at a cereal box at one time or another at breakfast? Many kids recalled the commercials they saw on Saturday morning T.V., then harassed their moms until they finally gave in and bought that cereal so they could get the prize inside. From then on, their moms would chide them with, “You begged me to buy that cereal, so now, damn it, you better eat it.” Siblings all over America fought over the little prizes they found in cereal boxes. Winners got to shove their hand into the box to collect their victory in the form of a paper or cellophane-wrapped toy. Those were the days.

Just about everyone grew up with cereal boxes. And today, a small group of dedicated collectors cherish them because they bring back fond memories of their childhood. And that’s the key reason people collect cereal boxes—for the nostalgia.

One collector paid $450 for a box of cereal—just for the box. To cereal box collectors, $450 isn’t much at all. An unopened package of Post Ten—the now-defunct variety pack of mini cereal boxes dating back to 1961—once sold for $2,550 on eBay.

The Origins of Today’s Cereals
Descended from its early ancestor, porridge, the first cold breakfast cereal was invented in the U.S. in the 1860s. Called Granula, it never quite captured the hearts of American consumers due to a lack of convenience—the nuggets had to be soaked overnight in milk before they could be consumed without chipping a tooth. It most likely wasn't too tasty, either. It took a young doctor from Battle Creek, Michigan named John Harvey Kellogg to take cereal mainstream.

John Harvey Kellogg and his younger brother Will Keith Kellogg accidentally invented cereal as it’s known today in 1894. They ran a sanitarium as part of a Seventh Day Adventist hospital. One day, while experimenting with various mixtures of flour and grain in an attempt to improve the sanitarium bread, the Kellogg brothers discovered a way to make light flakes out of sheets of dough. They tried the new food out on the sanatarium residents who loved it and soon launched their new business.

John Kellogg founded the Santias Nut Company, making his younger brother the chief executive officer, to sell the new cereal by mail. Success begets imitation and by 1902, the Kelloggs had more than 40 competitors. Will Keith Kellogg was much more aggressive in business than his brother, and on April 1, 1906, he branched out on his own and established the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company. Since then, for many Americans, breakfast comes in a box. By the early 1900s dozens of cereal companies, including rival Post, had opened factories in Battle Creek.

It wasn't until after World War II that cereal companies began targeting kids. In 1948, Post introduced its first sugar-coated cereal, Sugar Crisp, along with an animated TV commercial, and its competitors quickly followed suit. In 1951, Kellogg's unveiled its feline mascot Tony the Tiger, who convinced kids all over the nation how "Grrr-r-rreat!" the company's Frosted Flakes were. Sweetened cereals came to dominate the market, bolstered by commercials in cartoon shows that helped manufacturers hook generations of children to come.

Collecting Cereal Boxes
Like collectors of many other items, from baseball cards to model trains, nostalgia fuels cereal box aficionados. Many adults have vivid memories of sitting around on Saturday mornings watching cartoons with a bowl of Fruit Loops or Cocoa Puffs in front of them.

Some collectors begin their cereal box collections by stashing away unopened premiums—the prizes that come inside cereal boxes—in hopes they'd be valuable someday. As it turns out, it's the boxes themselves rather than the premiums that are typically worth more because fewer of them have survived intact.

The cereal box's disposable nature seems to be one of the things that attracts collectors, unlike baseball cards, which were never intended to be saved. They're also colorful and easy to display. After all, people who purchase Fruit Loops do so strictly in pursuit of the sugary little “Os” inside. As soon as they eat them, they discard the packaging.

But in the cereal box world, the oldest boxes aren't necessarily the most valuable. The value of any cereal box is highly speculative. As with other collectibles, a box’s value depends on what someone else is willing to pay for it.

Crossover collecting is also very common. A pair of boxes of Nabisco Wheat Honeys and Rice Honeys from the late 1960s with a Beatles Yellow Submarine tie-in fetched an online price of $11,000, most likely from a collector of Beatles memorabilia rather than one who collects cereal boxes. The same holds true for Star Wars collectors who collect limited-edition Star Wars cereals, or sports memorabilia lovers who collect Wheaties boxes.

The most desirable boxes are the ones with widest appeal, such as those with popular cartoon characters and sports stars on them, and those featuring a mail-in offer that could be sent off for some sort of limited-edition prize, like a decoder ring or toy Navy boat. Often, the cereal box market intersects with other popular collectible categories. Superhero-themed boxes are very popular.

Before online auctions and discussion forums, tracking down a rare cereal box could require months or years of following leads from other collectors and traveling to in-person swap meets. Today, collectors can do an eBay search and pay for cereal boxes through Paypal or their credit card.

For most cereal box collectors, the thrill of the hunt is what keeps them going. The infinite varieties of cereal boxes, along with the scarcity of most of them, is what keeps many collectors enthralled.

The variety of cereals and the countless premiums make this an ideal collectible category. Some people try to collect them all while others hunt certain sports or cartoon characters on the box covers.

The Cereal Box Market
Prices of cereal boxes range from as little as $5 for a Kellogg's Pep Wheat Flakes box with a Linda Lou doll offer from 1969 to $1;000 for a British Kellogg's Sugar Smacks from 1970 featuring Mr. Spock of Star Trek. A Nabisco Wheat Honeys box from 1956, with Buffalo Bill on the front and Rin-Tin-Tin 12-ring set on the back is worth about $125. A 1950 Quaker Oats box, advertising a Roy Rogers Microscope Ring is valued at about $80. A General Mills Cheerios box from 1980, featuring the Lone Ranger on Silver, is worth about $40. All prices are for boxes in "mint" condition.

One of the first stops for the novice or veteran cereal box collector should be the local grocery store. Look for limited-run specials or boxes linked to current events or events of regional interest. Collectors in other areas of the country will be interested in swapping boxes that didn’t appear in their regions.

Cereal box collectors also frequent sports, toy, and ephemera shows. Another tried method of flushing cereal boxes out of attics and garages is advertising in the classifieds of local newspapers and trade publications. Many of the responses, unfortunately, might be about boxes that are still on the store shelves, but, at the same time, a find, such as a 1969 Nabisco Rice Honeys featuring The Beatles, worth as much as $1,000, might surface.

So what do collectors do with all the cereal?. Some eat it while others give it to local food banks. And some keep it right in the box. However, many soon learn that doing so invites guests that may not otherwise visit their homes.


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How to Recognize and Refinish Antiques for Pleasure and Profit

Book: How to Recognizing and Refinishing Antiques for Pleasure and Profit
Have you ever bought an antique or collectible that was less than perfect and needed some TLC? Bob's new book offers tips and step-by- step instructions for simple maintenance and restoration of common antiques.

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