As with so many other things during this lingering economic morass, the market for vintage Halloween memorabilia has been impacted, but less than you might think. Although the low end, the largest tier of merchandise like candles from all era, post-1960s tin and post-1965 non-embossed paper, is quite soft, the middle tier picked up noticeable steam this season with not a few rather jaw-dropping results on Ebay in the last few months.
Prices for mint common items like USA pulp, German diecuts, post-1948 Dennison diecuts, most hard plastic items, tin tambourines and many 1940s fortune-style games have shown marked upward movement. Whereas last year was a great time to be a buyer, the rapid escalation of prices for mint middle tier means that most buyers have to prioritize better.
Given the reality that Halloween decorations, by and large, were not treasured, near-mint and better examples of virtually anything made prior to 1960 remain hard to find. Even with rapidly escalating prices (by and large) for mint middle tier items, open your purses and wallets wide when you see such items. Over time, they will simply get scarcer!
For top tier items, the market remains very, very hot. I believe this to be true across all collecting genres as the very best stuff routinely brings eye-popping results. Pre-1940 German candy container, nodders and figurals; 1920-1931 Beistle paper and pre-1940 Dennison and Gibson boxed products and diecuts continue to lead the market.
Bear in mind that the overall trend line for prices is up over the last 25 years - perhaps way up - while the trend line for the availability of premium items is decidedly down. As a collector this is frustrating, but as a sometimes dealer it brings a smile to my face! I would say that 2011 is another year where I see the supply of quality items continuing to be thin.)
Two auction houses in particular offer vintage Halloween on a more or less regular basis. Results in 2010 and 2011 have been very uneven. Bertoia offered Claire Lavin's collection for sale in late 2010 to very dismal results indeed. Many of the buyers at that Bertoia auction immediately turned around and resold their purchases on Ebay with far better prices. Contrast this with the late 2010 auction by Morphy which, frankly, blew most collectors' sock off with insanely high prices for even forgettable items. The September 2011 auction by Morphy achieved very mixed results with many bargains to be found. Elements of auction houses being craps shoots abound.
The dark side to this overall rise in prices is the reproduced and fantasy items being brazenly hawked as vintage―especially through the on-line venues. Newer collectors, the life blood of any continuing hobby, are unsuspectingly buying these poorly made and soulless items, happily stuffing them into display cases unprepared for the disappointment due when, with further experience and knowledge, the realization hits they have purchased items with decorative value only. I used to worry more about the cynicism creeping into the vintage Halloween collecting hobby due to this avalanche of reproductions and fantasy items, which may have driven off the newer collectors at one time. However, with the strong sales of my book and the high number of unique visitors to this web site each and every day, my fears have been largely allayed. Keep in mind two rules of thumb: Be very skeptical of anything hawked as being "found" in the old East Germany. Many of these so-called vintage German lanterns, candy containers and figural horns have been recently made and are essentially decorative items only, with no vintage value. Also, have the same skepticism about dealers claiming to have brought back vintage items from any recent trips to Germany. At the time true vintage items were being made, they were ALL destined for export, as the Germans did not celebrate Halloween. I cannot emphasize these points enough!
Some genres have seemed to gain more strength than others: unusual German diecuts, American candy boxes, Beistle party sets and Beistle table top decorations have all seen very sharp price increases in 2011. The Halloween hard plastic genre, long ridiculously overpriced, has cooled considerably, although prices remain laughably high for what has to be the most readily available of all vintage Halloween material. Unless you just love the stuff, I'd allocate your scarce collecting dollars to items which are truly hard to come by!
Don't ever lose sight of this reality: Vintage, display-quality Halloween items are truly scarce. Because Halloween is an annual occasion creating new memories, this “renewable” aspect of the holiday will serve to keep interest in the old imagery strong in the coming years, attracting new collectors - all pursuing a dwindling supply of quality material.