Rinker on Collectibles: It’s Scary How Halloween Has Changed

This German-made Jack-O-Lantern candlestick and holder, which is designed to hold candy, can be found in Mark B. Ledenbach’s book, “Vintage Halloween Collection.” It sold at auction for $3,132.90 in 2013.

This German-made Jack-O-Lantern candlestick and holder, which is designed to hold candy, can be found in Mark B. Ledenbach’s book, “Vintage Halloween Collection.” It sold at auction for $3,132.90 in 2013.

Holiday collectibles were a hot commodity in the 1980s and ’90s as collectors looked nostalgically backward. Throughout much of the 20th century, holidays were anticipated, supported throughout the school calendar year, patriotic-driven in the summer, and focused. Today holidays are merged together, ignored, and occasionally politically incorrect. Commercial greed is not the only culprit behind this change. Health issues, local laws, the tourism industry, the how about a holiday for many ethnicity movements, and adult gratification first and family fun secondary also are to blame.

Washington and Lincoln’s birthdays are now celebrated on President’s Day, a February Monday on which, apparently, every president was born. St. Patrick’s Day is driven more by the beer industry than the Irish. Easter continues to lose it meaning as more and more Americans abandon their religious convictions. Community parades for Memorial Day and Labor Day are celebrated in fewer and fewer communities. Fourth of July is about firework displays and not a celebration of the birth of the nation. Mail-order catalogs start touting Christmas gift giving in August. Christmas decorations appear in stores and malls in early October. Halloween survives, but Thanksgiving is a lost cause. Christmas is so hyped that most adults, and even many children, are happy when it is finally over.

Christmas has always been king of the hill in terms of holiday collectibles. Within the myriad of Christmas sub-collecting categories, the Jolly Old Elf has a commanding lead. Until the mid-1980s, Thanksgiving was the Avis of the holiday collectibles season. Thanks to the efforts of a number of key individuals, the most notable of which is Pamela Apkarian-Russell, Halloween replaced Thanksgiving as the second-most important holiday collectibles in America.

Apkarian-Russell provided collectors with checklists. Her publications include “Collectible Halloween with Values” (Schiffer, 1997), “Halloween Collectible Decorations and Games” (Schiffer, 2000), “More Halloween Collectibles: Anthropomorphic Vegetables and Fruits of Halloween (Schiffer, 2007). A wealth of other titles include: Charlene Pinkerton’s “Halloween Favorites in Plastic” (Schiffer, 1998); Claire Lavin’s “Timeless Halloween Collectibles: 1920 to 1949, a Halloween Reference Book from the Beistele Company Archive with Price Guide” (Schiffer Publications, 2007); Mark Ledenbach’s “Vintage Halloween Collectibles” (Krause Publications, three editions, 2007, the last in 2014); and Stuart Schneider’s “Halloween Costumes and Other Treats” (Schiffer, 2007). Because of the strong pictorial nature of Halloween collectibles, these references are priced picture books. Few specialized collecting categories have this wealth of support literature. It is worth noting that, with the exception of a new edition of Mark Lederbach’s book, no new titles have been published since 2010. Market saturation, shift of collecting focus, reproductions, and lack of affordability are potential contributors to the lack of new titles.

This Tico Toys/Rosbro Halloween witch on a white motorcycle with orange wheels, circa 1952, realized $2,082.87 in an 2013 eBay auction.

This Tico Toys/Rosbro Halloween witch on a white motorcycle with orange wheels, circa 1952, realized $2,082.87 in an 2013 eBay auction.

When I was living at The School (the former Vera Cruz, Pa., Elementary School), I was asked if I had a Halloween collection. My immediate reaction was: “I do not collect Halloween memorabilia.” The more I thought about it, I realized I had a large Halloween collection. The two concepts are not contradictory.

The collectible is a multi-faceted object. A single collectible can fit in a myriad of collecting categories. A Zorro Halloween Costume, which I owned at the time, also can be found in a Disney character, a TV western, or a western Hispanic/Latino collection.

Halloween-theme items were found in my children’s costume, holiday candle, jigsaw puzzle, postcard, and sheet music collections, just to name a few. I found a wonderful 1950s lithograph tin barrel rattle featuring black silhouettes of cats, pumpkins and other Halloween images on an orange ground while packing. I do not remember if I saved from it my childhood, a strong possibility, or made a nostalgic purchase based on a childhood memory. I have a sneaky suspicion I brought it with me to Michigan.

Had I rounded up my Halloween-theme collectibles and placed them in one location, the final object count would exceed 100, possibly 200. A true collector never has enough. I owned several jack-o’-lantern buckets used for trick-or-treating. The Institute for the Study of Antiques and Collectibles “Repro” study collection contained several Mexican pumpkin-face candy containers. My sheet music collection with cat theme covers contains several Halloween theme sheets.

Halloween memorabilia still rears its ugly head on occasion in my Michigan collections. I retained the cat sheet music collection. My postcard collection still contains a few Halloween cards. Aunt Ruth’s bridge tally collection contains more than a dozen Halloween-theme items.

Like so many collectible categories, Halloween memorabilia is nostalgic driven. If one grew up with it, one remembers it. If those memories evoke are soft and fuzzy, the temptation to reexperience them is high. The tragedy is the retrieval is personal and not necessarily shared.

This pair of antique German paper mache Halloween Jack ’O Lantern brought $4,494 at auction.

This pair of antique German paper mache Halloween Jack ’O Lanterns brought $4,494 at auction.

In the mid-20th century, Halloween was a two-week plus event. In the 1950s, I spent four to six days going from neighborhood to neighborhood trick or treating. There were multiple Halloween parties, almost all child-focused. Dining room tables and buffets were decorated for the holiday. Grade school projects resulted in dozens of different decorative items. Toilet paper sold briskly to high school students. Halloween parades were the norm.

Author’s Aside: Halloween parades still exit in a few small communities. Linda and I served as the Grand Marshals for one of the annual Vera Cruz, Pa., Halloween parades, all of which turned around at The School when we lived there.

Fueled by the razor blades in apples and candy scares, the Halloween slasher movies—“Halloween” premiered in 1978—and growing concern about child obesity, parental fears associated with Halloween continue to increase. Municipalities pass laws that place severe restrictions on trick-or-treating. In 2016, dressing up as a clown is an invitation to be arrested.

The secondary market for Halloween memorabilia has fallen sharply. Halloween still remains the second most popular holiday among collectors. However, these collectors are aging. Adult memories do not fuel future collecting as do childhood memories.

I used to love Halloween. Now, I turn my porch light off. Since I live in a senior citizen dominated housing development, no one would knock even if I did leave the light on.

Boo! Hoo!


Rinker Enterprises and Harry L. Rinker are on the Internet. Check out Harry’s Web site.

You can listen and participate in Harry’s antiques-and-collectibles radio call-in show “Whatcha Got?” on Sunday mornings between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Eastern Time. It streams live on the Genesis Communications Network.

“Sell, Keep Or Toss? How To Downsize A Home, Settle An Estate, And Appraise Personal Property” (House of Collectibles, an imprint of the Random House Information Group), Harry’s latest book, is available at your favorite bookstore and via Harry’s Web site.

Harry L. Rinker welcomes questions from readers about collectibles, those mass-produced items from the 20th century. Selected queries will be answered on this site. Harry cannot provide personal answers. Send your questions to: Rinker on Collectibles, 5955 Mill Pond Court SE, Kentwood, MI 49512. You can e-mail your questions to harrylrinker@aol.com. Only e-mails containing a full name and mailing address will be considered. Please indicate that these are questions for WorthPoint.

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