Vintage Halloween - Collecting & History
Vintage Halloween Collecting
Nancy Drew and Halloween collector Jennifer Fisher, who runs Vintage Halloween, likes to collect mainly noisemakers, party decorations, and party games - several of her collecting specialties, however she also collects whatever she fancies including paper mache lanterns and diecut decorations. She also collects vintage style Halloween pieces from artists like Johanna Parker and new items coming into stores that are evocative of Vintage Halloween. Her favorite are the noisemakers and we'll feature a few of them below as well as several other categories of Vintage Halloween Collectibles. This section is a brief overview of these collectibles - see below for more info on more detailed sites to learn more. Several of her noisemakers were featured in the October 2007 issue of Country Home magazine in a section on vintage Halloween collectibles, in the 2008 issue of Collectors News, and the 2017 issue of Collectors Journal.
1920s to 1960s Vintage Halloween
The heyday of Vintage Halloween collectibles covers the period from the 1920s to 1950s and 1960s. Vintage Halloween collectibles can be broken down in to several main categories - noisemakers, postcards, paper mache lanterns, party decorations, books and candy containers, and costumes and accessories - though there are also other subcategories within each and some selections of more rare ephemera that you can see in guides like Mark Ledenbach's Vintage Halloween Collectibles guide which you can order at his website and you can learn a lot more about collecting Vintage Halloween there.
Most Halloween collectibles can be found on average from about $20.00 to the $300.00 range with some items running in the hundreds to thousands that are typically more popular, scarce or rarer items. Within each category of collectibles there are more moderately priced pieces and those that bring in top dollar.
Vintage Halloween Noisemakers
Noisemakers were fun and inexpensive toys. They came in all varieties and many different styles featuring the usual Halloween themes and symbols: witches, black cats, ghosts, pumpkins, owls, devils, and more. Popular US producers of these were Kirchhof, T. Cohn, Bugle Toy, US Metal Toy, and J. Chein and Co. Some were produced in Germany. Noisemakers range from paper to metal. Earlier examples of metal noisemakers featured handles which were wooden and then were replaced later by plastic handles.
Generally, noisemakers can be purchased from around $15.00 to $75.00 with some commanding prices into the hundreds depending on scarcity, age, style, images, and maker.
Vintage Halloween Postcards
Halloween postcards are one of the most collectible Halloween items. Most used wonderfully illustrated scenes of festivities on Halloween including bobbing for apples, fortune games, witches, pumpkins, veggie people, and cats.
Some of the more popular postcards are those signed by the artist--such as Clapsaddle and Brundage cards. Postcards, the precursor of the standard modern greeting card, were prolific for Halloween beginning in the late 1800s. Generally, these can be found for as little as $10.00 to $20.00 on up to several hundred dollars for rarer cards--especially those that are mint and unused. Some become very collectible too because of the writing on the back of the postcards when it's extra special and references Halloween or Halloween parties.
Some fun sayings from vintage postcards:"May the witch, which here is seen
bring you a bird of a Halloween."
Beware! The time is here
in which the witches do appear."
"Hold your candle steady
And keep a sharp lookout
For back among the shadows
You'll see goblins peeping out."
"May jack-o-lanterns burning bright.
Of soft and golden hue.
Pierce through the Future's veil and show
What fate now holds for you."
Vintage Halloween Paper Mache Lanterns
Paper mache or papier mache lanterns were very inexpensive and fun items to decorate with and light up.
Many featured paper inserts for the features. Most were pumpkins but some came in the shape of cats and other Halloween themes.
Aside from lanterns, these were used as candy containers and nut cups too.
Generally lanterns sell at eBay and are valued in guides for around $75.00 to $150.00 depending on condition.
Vintage Halloween Party Decor
Party Decorations span a wide variety and include a lot of paper ephemera: suckerholders, candy boxes, garlands, diecuts, table decorations, centerpieces, plates, cups, napkins, treat bags, bridge tallies, nutcups, doilies, invitations, placecards, kitchenware, signs, candles and candle holders, party books, and so much more.
Parties were festive and full of fun and inexpensive Halloween decorations. The party books are especially great to look at. Beistle party and other party books often included invitations, place cards, candle holders, candle shades, and nut cups along with games to play at a party. Dennison Bogie Books were also very much in fashion to showcase the latest offerings as well as recipes and party planning ideas.
It wouldn't be Halloween without candy! Many kinds of candy containers were created including those made out of composition, paper mache, and plastic. Often the candy inside the composition and paper mache containers was little round or bullet shaped candies.
Vintage Halloween Costumes
Traditionally, costumes were worn in ancient times by the Celts to blend in with ghosts during the eve when the veil between life and death was at the thinnest. These costumes were said to be worn to scare away spirits as well.
Most costumes consist of the usual suspects: witches, ghosts, dracula, mummy, devil, angel, cowboy, and princess among other time honored favorites such as cartoon characters and superheroes. Vintage costumes were often handmade out of crepe paper. The Dennison Paper Company's Bogie books and other crepe paper books had lots of ideas and illustrations of costumes that could be made with crepe. Finding these vintage crepe costumes, which were often discarded after Halloween, is a treat!
Popular costume makers included Collegeville, Ben Cooper, and Halco. These packaged costumes came in a box with an outfit and a mask.
Vintage Halloween Games
Halloween games range from board games to fortunes and stunts. They are lots of fun to collect and play. The most prolific manufacturer of these games was the Beistle Company. Some of the fortunes and stunts seem a little silly but they were all in good fun!
Go out on the porch, and imitate a cat meowing.
Hop around the room on one foot, holding the other in one hand and a glass of water in the other.
Yawn and stretch. Then apologize as foolishly as possible until someone laughs.
A Brief Overview of Halloween History:
All Hallows' Eve has a diverse history. The ancient festivals that pre-date our modern Hallowe'en celebrations began several thousand years ago. Over time, influences from various cultures and ethnic groups have blended together into what we know now, as Hallowe'en--a time of trick or treating, bobbing for apples, and getting spooked at "haunted" houses.
Over 2,500 years ago, the Celts of Northern Europe celebrated the festival of Samhain. Samhain translates to end of summer. This celebration centered on the agrarian societies that had developed and their celebration of the harvest and the Celtic New Year. Once the calendar came to be, the Celtic New Year began on November 1st, and celebration took place the day before on October 31st.
The Druids were priests, leaders of the Celts, performed rituals and lit bonfires. People performed divination spells and dressed as ghosts to blend in. Parades were held. It was then thought to be that the veil between the living and the dead was the most permeable at this time of year, thus dressing as ghosts to "blend in." It was at this time, that Celts felt the future could be most accurately predicted, thus the divination rituals. Celts carved scary faces in turnips, which were plentiful in Northern Europe, to fend off evil. They would carry embers from the bonfires to light fires in their hearths.
Looking back upon these rituals and festivities, with our modern views, leads to many judgments and inaccuracies of the origins of Hallowe'en. One of the most common myths and ignorant facts is that Samhain was a Celtic God of the Dead and is associated with Satan. This is not at all true. Samhain, pronounced "SOW-in", was a festival and translates to "end of summer."
When the Romans conquered Northern Europe, their customs blended with the Celtic customs.
Later on, as Christianity spread and the Celts were assimilated, the Celts continued their pagan festivals and customs. The church at first did not object so long as Christianity was accepted. Over time the church, in competing with these pagan rituals and customs, sought to diminish the pagan aspects by outlawing the festivals and creating holy days to replace them. All Hallows' Day or All Saints Day was instituted on November 1st. October 31st, therefore, became All Hallows' Eve. Over time, November 2nd became All Souls' Day. All Hallows' Eve later became Hallowe'en and then our modern Halloween. Hallowe'en therefore is derived from the Christian holiday, All Hallows' Day. People offered "soul cakes" to the poor who would come door to door and beg for these soul cakes in exchange for their prayers for the deceased family members of those offering the cakes.
Our modern Hallowe'en and its customs have derived from both the ancient Celtic festival, the Roman festival, and the Christian holiday. The huge influx of Irish immigrants in the last two hundred years, led to much influence on traditions and customs of Hallowe'en. Here are the possible roots of some of the more popular Hallowe'en symbols:
Witch, or "Wica" is derived from the Wiccas who performed rituals in ancient times among the Celts. Often portrayed on a broom or standing over a cauldron, these images derive from the wica rituals of potion making and divination. Superstitions abound, and black cats were often said to be a witch in disguise.
In ancient societies, often the animal of choice for sacrifice was the goat. So images we often see of the devil portray him with horns, a pointed chin, hooves, and large eyes.
Owls & Bats:
Owls and bats were nocturnal animals and often owls were seen at harvest time, feeding on rodents and other animals in the fields. The lore of a bat being Dracula, has derived from a species of blood sucking bats. Since Hallowe'en is celebrated mostly at night, these nocturnal animals came to be a portrayed often in stories and decorations.
Since this time of year was considered to be the time when the veil between the living and dead was at the thinnest, it was a common belief that one could mingle with the dead and commune with dead relatives. Anything that seemed unnatural or odd would be blamed on "ghosts" having done it.
It was at this time of year that fortunes were sought out, to see what fate had in store for people. It was seen as the time for the most accurate predictions. Through time this led to fortune games at parties and the Victorian custom of twirling apple parings over one's head. When the paring fell to the ground, it formed a shape of a letter, the first letter of the name of a future beau.
Trick or Treating:
It has been suggested that trick or treating derived from the poor begging for food or the poor begging for soul cakes in return for their prayers for the dead. In Scotland in the 1800's, kids would go out "guising" in costume for treats.
Jack o' Lanterns:
The legend of the most familiar Hallowe'en symbol--a lighted pumpkin--comes from a tale of an old Irish miser named Jack. Jack made several pacts with the devil. He also tricked the devil. When he died, he could not get into Heaven for his sins and because he had tricked the devil, he could not get into Hell. The Devil gave him a coal and Jack placed it in a hollowed out turnip, which lit his way as he wandered the earth until Judgment Day.
These lit up turnips of ancient times were also said to help ward off evil. Pumpkins, native to America, were plentiful and took the place of turnips.
Hallowe'en parties became a yearly tradition and were celebrated with much fanfare. Party decorations became widespread and were inexpensive to purchase. Overtime, trick or treating became more common and today is looked upon with relish as kids choose to be ghosts or witches or little devils--all in good fun. It is interesting, that for so many who deal with death or things that are scary in so many different ways, that as a society we face these things so informally and with relish for one fantasy filled evening. Unfortunately as with any aspect of life, there are people who do evil things and sometimes these things are done on Hallowe'en, but these people are acting on their own and not in kind with the spirit and festival that is ancient or modern day Hallowe'en.
Some interesting links about the history and tradition of Hallowe'en: