Ah, Halloween…my absolute favorite time of year.
I could write endlessly about the joys of Halloween, the history of Halloween, the Candy of Halloween – but I’ll leave that crap to the ‘professional Bloggers’ out there, and focus on stuff that I think is kinda cool and doesn’t require a lot of work or thought…
A few years ago, I think it was 2001, I was doing a little online research for some ‘new’ inspiration for Halloween decor. I was looking for something different than the classic Universal Monsters stuff which has been done to death, and items more in the vein of ‘vintage-antique’ decor. This was before companies started reproducing ‘vintage’ decor for the trendy boutiques, and it was really hard to find. Before long I stumbled upon some German Die-Cut Paper Decorations, and they blew my mind! They were everything I was looking for: primitive, creepy, cartoony having that classic 1920′s Fleischer Studioslook and feel. They were amazing…and out of my price range. Once again I came too late to the party to actually start collecting these little jewels as prices can range into the hundreds of dollars for an 8-12 inch tall Die-Cut Pumpkin. So I had to settle on scouring the internet and ‘collect’ images of them instead. So, here are a few of the many images I have collected over the years, along with some text written by Mark B. Ledenbach (who has ben called ‘The Dean of Halloween’ and uber collector of the holiday) that sheds some light onto this whole German Die Cut Paper thing…I hope you get a kick out of them as much as I do. (Feel free to swipe them from this Blog, click -twice on the image to see larger versions.)
Mark B. Ledenbach:
“I innocently stumbled into the world of collecting vintage Halloween memorabilia in the 1980s. I was in a local store, Blue Eagle Antiques, when the proprietor asked if I would help her move out several boxes containing Halloween decorations for her seasonal displays. Being curious I went and opened the boxes and was dazzled by the strong imagery found on those vintage pieces. Instantly hooked, I recall writing a check for nearly $350.00 that day, which bought quite a lot from those boxes! Among my first purchases was a complete set of eight early 1940′s Beistle’s (HE Luhrs’ Mark) black cat die-cut band for $16.00. Those were indeed the days!
I was fortunate to have started collecting Halloween when I did. This “Golden Age” of relative plenty, coupled with low prices and quizzical looks from shopkeepers when asked about the availability of vintage Halloween in months other than October, lasted until about 1995. Being an avid collector, I was able to amass a nice assortment of material priced quite reasonably during this interlude. Then, in 1995, the first references devoted solely to Halloween collectibles were published. The first was “Halloween in America” written by Stuart Schneider. The second was “Halloween Collectables” written by Dan/Pauline Campanelli. These works contributed greatly to the meager knowledge base available to Halloween collectors at the time. Once these were published, prices – already on a fairly steep trajectory since 1991 – truly exploded.
Halloween, as a commonly celebrated US event, truly came into its own in the very early 1920s. Parties then were primarily for adults, with guests settling in to play mahjong, bridge or other games. Tables and walls would be decorated with a wide array of Halloween-themed items, really setting the party’s mood. The games’ winners would be given prizes to take home, like candy containers, lanterns or noisemakers. Only later did “trick or treating” come into vogue, with the holiday becoming then more firmly oriented toward children. I tend to savor those items made in the interlude before Halloween became so child-focused.
Halloween is the quintessential American holiday, although many of the most prized items today were manufactured in Germany. How did this come about? After World War I, Germany was devastated by the follies of their own foreign policy but hampered in its recovery efforts by the Versailles Treaty. Forced to pay reparations to the victorious allies for the devastation of WWI, an outlet earlier used assumed greater importance. Several American discount-merchandising magnates like Frank W. Woolworth and Sebastian S. Kresge more strongly encouraged German artisans at this time to use their creative expertise to craft unique and wondrous items for export to the vast and growing American holiday market. What I consider to be the zenith of German Halloween production in terms of variety and design is from ~1919 until 1935, when the expansive tendencies of the new German Reich brought this kind of trade to a close, not to resume until after the partition in the late 1940s. We shouldn’t think of the German production of Halloween memorabilia from this early era in modern terms. Many, if not all, of the lanterns, candy containers and figurals were made in homes or very small firms, from either a fixed design or a mold, and all hand decorated. The overall quantity of items produced was quite small given the conditions present at the time of their creation.
There were two premier American die-cut and party supply manufacturers from this era: the Beistle Company of Shippensburg, Pennsylvania and the Dennison Manufacturing Company of Framingham, Massachusetts. Both are still in business today. Many collectors will note a mark on some of the better die-cuts from about 1940 through the early 1950s as “H.E. Luhrs.” The Beistle Company exclusively used this mark. Mr. Luhrs worked his way up through the firm, becoming president of Beistle in 1941. Beistle was known for making very detailed paper die-cuts, lanterns and table items. They were made in smaller quantities and are much desired by today’s collectors. Although often not marked, the Beistle imagery and design are certain indicators of their origin.
One thing I truly thank Dennison for was their nearly always annual publication of their Halloween Bogie Books. Beginning in 1909 and continuing through the mid 1930s (later incarnations were sized and titled differently – but all followed the same format), these magazines served as the primary sales and marketing tool for Dennison’s Halloween products. For today’s collectors they serve an entirely different purpose altogether: a primary source of determining the manufacture date of items. Halloween items are, by and large, difficult to accurately date beyond a typical range of years. The Bogie Books help provide solid parameters for the dating of Dennison products. (One note: many collectors assume the first Bogie Book was issued in 1912. However, the very first was issued in 1909, with a three season gap until the 1912 edition was released.)
Tin noisemakers of an astonishing variety and ingenuity were made by a number of American firms. Among the most sought after tin items are those made by Bugle Toy, a company about which little is known. Other manufacturers included Chein, Kirchhof and T. Cohn. You can find tambourines, clangers, rattlers, ratchets and so on. Earlier tin items will have sculpted wooden handles, with later items or versions having plastic handles.
The imagery of vintage Halloween items through the 1940s is compelling and memorable. The hierarchy of imagery has always been fairly logical: the pumpkin, or its more humanized incarnation, the Jack-O-Lantern, forms the bottom of the pyramid as the most common image. Ascending this pyramid, the middle layers would encompass black cats, skeletons and owls. The upper-most layers would consist of witches, veggie people and bats, with the pinnacle surely being occupied by devils. This means that within any given genre, devil imagery is the rarest to find. Although not always true, this rarity generally means that devil imagery commands very high prices. The imagery of the older Halloween pieces is significantly at odds with imagery common from the 1950s through today. This is certainly one of the most important factors escalating the prices for Halloween memorabilia. The imagery then was meant to provoke a reaction – generally a horrific one! The pieces were, in many instances, meant to scare. More recent Halloween imagery is, by and large, pedestrian, cute and dull. Since Halloween items are notoriously hard to accurately date, one rule of thumb I use is this: the scarier the imagery, the older the item!
The main factor behind the swift rise in prices since 1995 for vintage material is the true scarcity of display-quality items. Unlike Christmas decorations that almost always became heirlooms to be packed carefully away as the New Year dawned, Halloween decorations were generally used once at a party, and then discarded with no sentiment. Lanterns were designed to be illuminated by a flame that either consumed the lantern or made it undesirable for display. Die-cuts were often affixed to walls with liberal use of tape, which through the years causes damage affecting their display-worthiness. Games were designed so that in the playing of them, pieces would be torn from backing or cut away. Party table decorations would be scooped up by a tired host and thrown in the trash. Consequently, there is a true scarcity of quality, near-mint condition, vintage Halloween memorabilia.”