Published: October 25, 2011
A Treat: Halloween Collectibles
“Sop is na fuinneogaibh; dúntar na díirse,” proclaims a Gaelic proverb in a Nineteenth Century issue of Irisleabhar na Gaedhilge, also known as The Gaelic Journal . Loosely translated: “Straw in the windows and close the doors,” this being done in preparation for “Hallow E’en tonight.”
With a history that dates back to times preceding the birth of Christ, the roots of Halloween have spread across the globe, not always as pagan rituals, as they are sometimes perceived by certain factions of modern culture, but as celebratory eves. Samhain, as it was known by the Celtic people, was a celebration that marked the end of the summer months and the growing season, a time for harvest and for butchering. It signified the start of a new year, as well as the coming of the dark and cold season.
The meaning of the holiday grew over the centuries, also taking on a dark side, a magical time when some believed that the walls between the spiritual and material worlds became transparent, when black magic was practiced and ghosts and ghouls roamed the earth freely.
Fast-forward to modern times and Halloween has become a secular, joyous celebration that has all but lost its spiritual and pagan roots. It now transcends a Hollywoodesque scare factor into a fun factor. It is a holiday for the kids and a time when a harvest of a different sort is celebrated.
Today’s children are not the only ones allowed to have Halloween fun, however, as there are few things as entertaining in the world of antiques than Halloween collectibles. And what of the scare factor? For Halloween collectibles, it is nothing more than price tags †and one’s harvest is directly related to the size of one’s bank account.
Prior to toy making industries becoming firmly established in the United States in the mid-Nineteenth Century, commercially made children’s toys were virtually all imported. England is perhaps best known for Britains toy soldiers, France for the porcelain and bisque-headed dolls and Germany for its mechanical tin toys and, naturally, Halloween figures.
Halloween toys in mid-Nineteenth and Twentieth Century America have their roots firmly planted in Germany, an area well versed in horror †with rumors of vampires, witches and warlocks occupying virtually every medieval town and its surrounding castles.
The earliest items of the commercially made items are papier mache, all brightly painted †and jack-o’-lanterns are by far the most popular. In Celtic times, turnips were routinely decorated, yet as European immigrants and the holiday moved to America, jack-o’-lantern pumpkins became prevalent.
The true meaning behind the name jack-o’-lantern is unclear and, in at least one circumstance, mysterious. The name appears in Seventeenth Century records describing a night watchman with a lantern; it also describes a strange phenomenon of flickering lights over peat bogs. One that fits firmly with the Halloween theme, however, comes from an old Irish folk tale about a less than honest fellow named “Stingy Jack.” A sinful man, Jack is barred from entering Heaven and he deviously tricks the Devil into never taking his soul. The Devil, knowing he had been beat, tosses him an eternally burning ember from the fires of Hell that Jack stores in a hollowed-out turnip and uses as a lantern during his endless days wandering the earth.
The range of Halloween collectibles is incredibly vast, as is the price structure, leaving room for collectors who want to get on board with just $10 to spend, as well as those that are ready to pull the trigger on items costing tens of thousands of dollars.
Plastic items are popular and can range from a couple of bucks into the hundreds. While one would immediately think of plastic novelty items imported from Japan, perennial favorites are the American 1950s candy containers marketed by Rosbro †ranging from pumpkin-head scarecrows to the highly collectible witch on a motorcycle.
The early papier mache items, such as horns, hats, candy containers and roly-polys, usually start in the $100 price range and go up from there. Then there are the windup toys, carved and stuffed black cats and animated pumpkin men. And let us not forget about paper products ranging from figural die-cut wall hangings to early Halloween postcards.
The lines of the Halloween collectible can quickly blur, however, as it crosses over from one collecting category into another. Postcards are an excellent example, as is cast iron. The Halloween collectible that has garnered the steepest price in recent memory was a cast iron doorstop of a girl dressed as a ghost and holding a jack-o’-lantern. It sold at auction in 2006 for an impressive $72,800.
And just when you have had your fill of Halloween collectibles, clear the shelves and make way for the Thanksgiving collectibles, and then the Christmas collectibles&
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