Are My Vintage Halloween Decorations Worth Anything?

Halloween is a supernaturally fun holiday for children! Spooky decorations, like ghosts, spider webs, and bat trimming bushes and trees, lend homes a decidedly “haunted house” aura. The anticipation awaiting the hunt for the perfect pumpkin to carve into a jack-o-lantern with a wacky or scary face. The excitement of donning costumes and being a superhero, witch, pirate or princess for the night. And who could leave out the trick-or-treat bags bulging with candies and chocolate?

costumed party guests at 1920s Halloween partyThe Halloween of today looks much different from its origin, an ancient pagan festival celebrating the harvest and marking the end of summer. As the holiday became “American-ized” in the 1920s, it was actually a holiday for adults! According to Halloween collectibles expert, Mark B Ledenbach, Halloween “parties were all the rage then, but these were not for children. They were adult-oriented, with guests settling in to play Mahjong, bridge, and games. Tables and walls would be gaily decorated with a wide array of Halloween-themed items, setting the party’s mood. The games’ winners would be given prizes to take home, like candy containers, nodders, lanterns or noisemakers.”

This is the era of decor where we find the greatest value in old Halloween decorations!

A glance through any Halloween collectibles book illustrates a vast array of those early 1910s – about 1950s Halloween decorations for adult parties:

  • Games (ring toss, drawing while blindfolded, “dare”-type stunts, silly questions,hallowe'en stunt game book from 1930s tongue twisters)
  • Party decorations, usually made of paper or cardboard (invitations and envelopes, name placements, center-pieces, masks, headbands, nodders, aka “bobbleheads”)
  • Lanterns (for tabletops)
  • Noisemakers (similar to New Year’s Eve ones: clappers, tambourines, horns)
One fun category is Halloween catalogs and books! Beistle and Dennison, the two leading US Halloween decoration manufacturers of the time, put out a Halloween catalog each season (Dennison named theirs the Bogie Book). The early Bogie Books (pre-1930s), which have beautiful covers, are quite collectible, with current resale prices ranging from $100-$300! Its pages bubble with decoration themes and tips, table-setting plans, costume ideas, and gorgeously illustrated party scenes. These catalogs really give you a glimpse into this early version of Halloween – think Great Gatsby with a spooky twist! You can glance through one here!

vintage halloween postcard showing veggie peopleAccording to Ledenbach, having familiarity with Halloween imagery “types” will be very helpful when trying to figure out its rarity. His ranking system follows as:

      1. Devils (rarest)
  1. Ghosts, bats, veggie people (less common)
  2. Black cats, witches, skeletons, and owls (more common)
  3. pumpkins and Jack-o-lanterns (most common)
Also, since these early decorations were for adult parties, the imagery tended to be creepier, eerier, and more unsettling (as opposed to the cute, big-eyed ghosts and spiders we know today). The cuter, more child-friendly imagery became popular after 1950 as Halloween gradually transformed into the “trick-or-treat” day of fun for children.

Ledenbach also advises that this category of collectibles has lasting appeal and potential value because (1) holidays are an annual occasion, and so they have continual (cyclical) interest, and (b) compared with Christmas decorations, which were saved as traditional seasonal heirlooms, these early Halloween decorations were usually thrown away after the party, which makes finding them a real treat!

-Michelle Miller