A haunted history of Halloween

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Ghosts, goblins, and glamour? Collectible objects associated with Halloween highlight the holiday and reflect the interests of a particular era. Halloween collectibles, like all holiday collectibles, are a sign of the times. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Halloween was largely devoted to ghosts and those souls that have passed over. During the Victorian era, the last night of October was certainly not about dressing up like the latest action figure or a fairy princess; instead, it focused on memorializing the dead.

Noisy nights

Halloween objects feature a potpourri of scary traditions. Literary and art images show witches and ghosts blowing horns and tapping tambourines as they celebrate the long-awaited holiday. It was thought that making noise would frighten away evil spirits (for the wedding history buffs out there, this is why we tie tin cans to the back of newlyweds’ car bumpers). Noisemakers, like this Halloween tambourine from the early 1900s, were quite popular. Today, a vintage Halloween tambourine in pristine condition is a highly sought-after collectible, worth $800 to $1,200 on the secondary market.

I want candy

By the 1940s and 1950s, Halloween collectibles focused on the all-important and ever-present aspects of newly emerging neighborhood culture. As the American suburbs flourished in the years following World War II, Halloween became best known as the holiday that focused on crazed and costumed neighborhood children going from house to house on a quest to secure candy and retain their quickly developing sugar high.

It follows that candy containers made of paper machier and other materials are fine collectibles. They regularly came in the form of pumpkins, black cats, and ghosts. Not only did these objects carry the all-important and prized candy, but on the antiques and collectibles market, these candy containers in Halloween shapes also carry hefty price tags, from $500 to $5,000, depending on condition, provenance and other factors.

Spooky masks

While the noise scared off the spirits and the candy served as the reward, the wearing of Halloween masks and costumes remains a most coveted tradition. In the mid-20th century, color was king, as it reflected the prosperity of the postwar years. Colorful costumes were all the rage at Halloween, just as Fiesta ware dishes demonstrated that bright colors were central to mid-century modern design trends. Halloween costumes and masks were not only black and orange, but came in a variety of shades.

Even Halloween costumes of characteristically dark or unsettling figures like witches, warlocks and goblins had associated masks made of plastic decorated in very bright colors. While these masks were colorful for safety reasons as wearers took to the streets, they also kept up with the trends of the times and the bright and prosperous outlook of America in the 1950s and 1960s.

Ph.D. antiques appraiser and award-winning TV personality and talk show host Dr. Lori presents antique appraisal events nationwide. Join Dr. Lori on her next vacation cruise, focusing on antiques and watch her on the Fine Living Network’s “Worth Every Penny” and locally weekdays at 8 a.m. on Fox 4 TV’s ”Morning Blend.” Visit DrLoriV.com or call (888) 431-1010.

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