Have useful references on vintage Halloween collectibles been published?
See below for detailed verbiage, but here is a quick and dirty answer:
Vintage Halloween Collectibles: An Identification and Price Guide, Third Edition by Ledenbach
(5 stars - a must have reference)
Halloween In America by Schneider (4 stars - still holds up well over these many years)
The Halloween Catalog Collection by Truwe (4 stars - one of the most useful dating references)
Halloween Collectables by Campanelli (4 stars - solid info with a diverse range of items)
Timeless Halloween Collectibles by Lavin (3 stars - some good nuggets)
Halloween Favorites in Plastic by Pinkerton (3 stars - and I don't even collect hard plastic items!)
Time For Halloween Decorations by Lavin (1 star)
Anything by Pamela Apkarian-Russell (zero stars - all a laughable, data-free mishmash)
Yes, there are numerous books that I have found quite useful. As mentioned elsewhere on the web site, the first two works devoted exclusively to vintage Halloween items were Halloween in America by Stuart Schneider, published by Schiffer in 1995 and Halloween Collectables by Dan/Pauline Campanelli, published by L-W Book Sales also in 1995. (Pauline has since passed away and their collection was sold in May 2003 through Noel Barrett's auction house.) These are works that showcase a wide range of vintage material, with generally good captioning and nice photos. Schneider's book incorrectly cites the dimensions of numerous pieces, and he often gets the manufacturing dates of items wrong, but otherwise this is a useful reference. (Schneider personally collects mainly trick or treat bags and costumes, so the main thrust of the book's data came from two collectors who supplied the items shown in the book.) For those wishing more specialized coverage of vintage hard plastic, I’d recommend Charlene Pinkerton’s work, Halloween Favorites in Plastic, published by Schiffer in 1998. For those interested in vintage costumes, Stuart Schneider recently co-wrote, Halloween Costumes and Other Treats, with Schiffer again publishing. Frankly, I find the most worthwhile portion of this work to be the few pages showcasing the non-costume collection of Ralph Price. Other than this section, the book is uninteresting.
Schiffer published a book in 2004 that solely profiles vintage Halloween items made by Beistle from 1920-1949. Titled Timeless Halloween Collectibles, the data was compiled by Claire M. Lavin who had access to Beistle's archives. The book has both strong and weak points. Among the strong is the photography. Done by Claire's husband, Phil Lavin, the images are crisp and are simply superb. Although the text is comprised almost entirely of quotes from various Beistle catalogs, they helpfully point out the actual names Beistle assigned to their products. The book is logically arranged and has a generally pleasing layout. Curiously, the book has a 2005 publication date, although it was released in October 2004. As with any book, there are weaknesses. The pages largely contain items seen in previously published references. Although there is some new information unearthed, considering the possibilities any 160-page book provides, there wasn't as much as I had hoped. The book's serious shortcomings are a lack of explanation as to when catalogs were published during the year relative to the actual availability of the items shown (for instance was the 1929 catalog issued in January 1929 with product availability in February 1929, or was it issued in December 1929 with product availability in 1930?); a surprising lack of explanation or even discussion of the varying marks Beistle used during this time period; and a lack of definitive explanation as to which items shown were actually produced for public consumption versus those items that were never commercially produced. The captions are almost all mere recitations of Beistle catalog verbiage. Now, all of these specific observations could fall under the general umbrella of "minimal research" as I have found an unsettling number of errors while researching my new book relative to the dates the items were generally available for sale. The casual reader should bear in mind that Beistle never hired a professional archivist, but merely haphazardly stored examples of their wares. This is evident by the poor condition of many of their archived items and by the fact that many items seem to be missing from their archives. It is not clear whether Claire did much research independent of the data found at Beistle while photographing items for her book, so one must not take her date attributions at face value. With these thoughts firmly in mind, I do think the book is worth buying in order to more fully understand the importance of Beistle in the vintage Halloween memorabilia realm.
Unfortunately, Lavin didn't know when to quit. Her second effort, Time For Halloween Decorations, is almost wholly derivative of her first effort.
There are several other published works by Schiffer on Halloween material that I also can’t recommend. The books by Pam Russell, the self-styled Halloween Queen, are poorly researched, almost data-free in content, with under- lit photos of items in generally poor condition. Their scope is unfocused, with too many pages devoted to items extraneous to Halloween, and to recently manufactured, mass-produced items. For those on a budget, or unless you are a completist, definitely pass these "references" by.
In October 2003, Ben Truwe published through his Talky Tina Press a collection of wholesaler catalog pages from 1919 through 1968 exclusively showing Halloween items. As I wrote in my foreword for his book, "This new work by Ben Truwe will further expand the frontiers of knowledge available to the collector, shedding light on the nether world of the wholesale goods dealers." Additionally, Ben puts to rest many of the myths that have persisted around the antecedents of Trick or Treating. This is most definitely a reference worth having in your collection, although quite hard to find these days.
My third edition of Vintage Halloween Collectibles - An Identification and Price Guide was released in June 2014. For more information, please go to the Get Third Edition tab in the navigation section of this site.
Which Beistle items are really worth the big dollars?
I think the market is beginning to realize just how special the early Beistle items are. I would say that all of the top-tier items from the Shippensburg, PA firm were produced in the 1920s and into the early 1930s. My selections for the top-tier Beistle items would include both iterations of the jointed Halloween elf diecut, the splendid JOL/fairy clock diecut, the dual-sided 1931 lantern, the witch and cat "Tutu dancers" and the "Pick A Pumpkin" fortune game. I'd also add the pair of tutu tally cards and the two tally cards with the flip-up aprons. Second-tier items would include complete enveloped or boxed sets of place cards and invitations, all four roly-poly decorations, the JOL as well as black cat face continental hats and the tall, beautiful witch centerpiece shown on page 229 of my third edition.
Should I buy vintage material on eBay?
Yes, but be careful! eBay and other on-line venues have provided a major avenue to find quality vintage material. I have added great depth to my personal collection thanks to eBay. Some simple precautionary steps should be taken before buying anything from an on-line dealer:
- Check their feedback! Neutral or negative comments should be read to look for trends. If these trends are troublesome to you, simply avoid the dealer.
- Generally avoid dealers who provide photos of their item for sale taken from catalogs or other sources. Always make sure you can actually view what you might bid on.
- If dealers use sparse descriptions, or pepper their listing with non-standard descriptive terms for condition (like “excellent” or “great”), ask questions before you bid. Experienced dealers should be using standard condition descriptions (like “near-mint” or “fine”).
- Some dealers who routinely use reserves expect too much for the items they offer. Be comfortable asking them why they felt it necessary to place a reserve on the item, since you'll then get a better sense of their expertise.
Generally avoid dealers who place head-spinningly high BIN prices on items that don't account for condition. They typically don't know what they are doing. Look for dealers who warmly embrace the auction format.
Don’t buy from dealers who won’t forever stand behind the merchandise they describe and sell. This may sound extreme, but with all of the fantasy pieces and reproductions in the Halloween market these days, this is more important than ever. When the first wave of reproductions and fantasy pieces from Germany began to hit the US in the mid-1990s, I bought an expensive piece from a list mailed to me from a holiday dealer in St. Joseph, Missouri, Jenny Tarrant. The item was described as a vintage piece. As time went by, it became generally accepted that these items were fantasy pieces - recently made and possessing a decorative value only. I tried to return this piece to Jenny, with whom I had done business with for many years, and was rebuffed with the one liner that her return policy was five days, not five years! Naturally, I have never done business with her again. I encourage all of you to understand a dealer’s return policy. If he/she won’t back up the claims made for authenticity forever, pass the dealer by.
Do you sell on eBay? Do you sell things on this web site?
I rarely offer vintage Halloween items for sale on eBay as I like to sell directly to collectors through my own site. I have grown to dislike eBay's high fees and nonsensical buyer-advantaged rules. Be sure to check out my For Sale tab on this web site.
Is there anyone I can consult if I am unsure if a specific item is vintage?
Yes, I am more than happy to offer my opinion on items you are considering purchasing. If it is an item found on-line, simply send me the link with your specific question, and I'll reply as quickly as I can. Because of the volume of requests, I prioritize getting back to those who have purchased my third edition first. I can offer guidance on pricing, suggest questions you may wish to ask of the seller and let you know if I've had any positive or negative experiences with the seller.
Are there phone or in-person auctions for vintage Halloween material?
When prices began to escalate, several outstanding collections were sold in the late 1990s. Dunbar Gallery in Massachusetts used to conduct fairly regular “HallowMoon” auctions, offering generally top-flight pieces for auction. The same gallery coordinated the sale of the Hugh Luck collection in two parts in 1997. These two auctions enabled some of the finest vintage material around to be once-again offered for acquisition. Having been lucky enough to see this collection in person several times, I decided that an acquisition opportunity like this wouldn’t come around for a long while, so was enthusiastic in my bidding. Looking back, I feel fortunate that I was able to acquire the heart and soul of this superb collection.
Brian Moran of Florida decided to sell his fine collection, and was ingenious in the way he did it. He held seven auctions over a period of several years, offering top-notch pieces accompanied by scrupulously accurate descriptions. Getting these catalogs was always so much fun! Brian was among the most honest and articulate dealers I have done business with. He sells on Ebay under the handle of "buymytoys". You can purchase any vintage Halloween material from him with utter confidence.
As referenced elsewhere on this web site, Dan Campanelli decided to sell the collection he and his late wife amassed. This was sold through Noel Barrett's auction house in late May of 2003. The results from this auction were so so. Candy containers and lanterns did well - as those with a known provenance should. (These two genres have been very soft of late, probably due to the avalanche of new items being offered as vintage.) Beistle paper ephemera was strong, as were German diecuts, especially the single lot of two tiaras. U.S. tin noisemakers and hard plastic items didn't do too well. I believe the results would have been even stronger overall if there had been less grouping of great items. The way some of the lots were put together left something to be desired. Also, the buyer's premium Noel charged seemed to be at the highest end of the spectrum, certainly discouraging some bidders. Finally, the overall condition of many of the items sold was mid-spectrum...and the prices reflected all of these factors.
Which genres of Halloween items have been reproduced?
Candy containers and lanterns have been among the most reproduced items. There was a slew of supposed vintage German lanterns 3-4 years back. There are four in particular which still show up often - almost always as a set. One has a multi-colored face, one is a watermelon lantern, one is a ghost head lantern and the fourth is a devil head lantern. They all are the same size, have triangular noses and have nearly identical inserts. These are recently made and should be purchased for their decorative value only, which I estimate to be $25 each at best. I still occasionally see examples of the eye-catching, long-stemmed pipe lanterns (like a witch, cat or devil face, for example) touted on Ebay as being vintage German items. These are fantasy pieces and should be bought for the same reason as the lanterns cited above. I'd estimate their value at $20 each. Be very suspicious, perhaps even openly skeptical, of anything being sold described as part of a vintage warehouse find from the former East Germany. If you are told this by a dealer, feel free to laugh right into his or her face.
I was dismayed at the number of dealers at a 2002 Atlantic City show selling reproduced lanterns and candy containers. One dealer had so many offered for sale in the "original" boxes that he had to set up a separate card table to hold them all. He had small devil head lanterns, small owl head lanterns, cylindrical candy containers of cats wearing hats, with many more items I haven't mentioned. In talking with him, he was devout in his proclamations that each and every item he sold was from the 1950s. When I told him they were probably made last week, he simply didn't wish to hear any further information. I complained about this dealer to the show's manager who quickly went and spoke with the dealer. At this same show there were at least 3 dealers from Germany selling holiday items they all described as "warehouse finds". I don't doubt for a moment they were found in a warehouse, having been moved there from the factory dutifully churning them out on a daily basis. It has gotten to the point that I will not purchase candy containers or figurals unless I either have seen the item personally, or know the dealer to be reputable. I advise you to be similarly cautious. Saying this, the Atlantic City show has certainly tightened its standards. I carefully browsed the entire show in October 2003 and March & October 2004 and found only a very small handful of questionable pieces.
I discovered some interesting information about the old boxes these supposedly vintage items are being housed in - as referenced in the paragraph directly above. Apparently a large cache of empty vintage boxes was discovered in the storage areas of an old factory. So, although the boxes have some age to them, their contents do not. Don't be fooled!
American pulp lanterns have also been widely reproduced. Reproductions in and of themselves are not bad―unless they are meant to deceive. Do your research before you buy any of these items. Know the dealer, and understand their return policy.
Have there been any articles on the burgeoning Halloween reproduction market?
Yes, there was a profusely illustrated, lengthy article (which happens to begin on the issue's front page!) in the October 2002 issue of Antique & Collectors Reproduction News. Unfortunately, this publication is defunct. This article gives hints and tips on ways to spot repros and fantasy pieces by examining the paint used, the appearance of the surface finish for pulp items, and a very well done section on ways to spot the pandemic reproduction of lantern inserts. Not only is each specific point aptly illustrated, but there is a page containing clear photos of six relatively new reproductions of lanterns and candy containers. If you can dig up this issue, read the article and become educated enough to foil the growing number of scoundrels who attempt to pass off these objects as being vintage and therefore having value.
Why are some items common and others so hard to find?
Like anything else, manufacturers will supply a demand. Some Halloween items were strong sellers, so paper goods manufacturers like Dennison or Beistle had every incentive to make the same thing year after year. Some items were made and sat on the shelves. These items are the ones that are elusive today, having been made for the single season only.
The German die-cut tiaras are a great example of a good idea tripped up by the real world. Made to wrap around the front of a child’s head, and held in place by thin black elastic string, these elegantly designed items were beautiful to look at, but practically not functional, as they bent and continually slipped off. Consequently, even the most common of the twelve tiara iterations known to exist were made for only two to three years, with the rarer versions made for a single season only. Finding these today in near-mint condition is almost impossible.
You’ll see the same imagery used on varying forms of Halloween tin litho. This saved on production costs, while expanding the company’s line at the same time. The smaller pieces were more cost efficient to produce and therefore are much more plentiful today. The larger the piece, generally the fewer were produced. Hence, tin litho tambourines with imagery found on smaller items, typically carry a hefty premium in today’s market.
The vintage Halloween games genre is also instructive. Some games were reliable sellers, and are easily found today (“Cat and Witch with 24 Tails” by Whitman Publishing springs to mind for example). Others were either hard to make and therefore expensive originally, or were simply duds. An example of the former would be “Spears Halloween Ring Toss Game” with only 4-5 examples known, one of which resides in my collection. An example of the latter would be “Witch-EE” by Selchow-Righter.