Halloween is thought of as a quintessentially American holiday that has witnessed mass popularity in the United States since the 1920s. However, many of the customs of the celebration date back to Colonial times, and the roots of Halloween go as far back in time as the Druids.
As is true with many collecting categories, most highly sought-after Halloween collectibles were low-cost items, made in limited quantities, often intended for a one-time use.
Much of the manufacture of early items was in Germany after World War I. Germany was rebuilding, and small industry made vast quantities of fixed-design or molded forms that were hand decorated and exported to the U.S. The golden age of German-made Halloween collectibles dates from about 1919 to 1935. Items were also made in the U.S. from around 1910 through the 1950s and ’60s.
Halloween collectibles include decorations and accessories with themes like lanterns, candy containers, figures, games, tin noisemakers, die-cuts, and postcards. For candy carriers, pumpkins and cats are some of the most popular and common images, but other animals such as monkeys and bears were also made, along with characterized fruits and vegetables. Scarier subjects such as witches, bats, and devils are rarer (and older) and can therefore fetch higher prices. Elaborate German die-cuts are generally the most valuable items, along with paper lanterns and lights, few of which have survived. Prices range from $10 to $200 for postcards, $50 to $200 for tin noisemakers, $100-plus for candy carriers and hard plastic figures, and several hundred for papier-mâché masks and lanterns.
Vintage Halloween fare was meant to scare, so generally speaking, the scarier the item, the older it is. Kerry Shrives, senior appraiser and director of Discovery auctions at Skinner, Inc., a leading auction house in fine art and antiques, says, “Beware of modern reproductions. Items that have a too shiny or too bright surface with little to no wear or a too cute character depiction are likely not old. Look for detailed painting, well-modeled figures, a dulled surface, and wear consistent with age.”
This column is produced for Yankee by Skinner Auctioneers and Appraisers of Boston. skinnerinc.com