Thursday, June 16, 2016

Ornamenten Groteske

German embossed diecuts (skeleton) and lantern from the 1960s available in Germany (Narrenfibel catalog)

Spooked by German diecut availability through the 1970's, (pushing experts' guide dates beyond the 1920s-1940s)? As mentioned in the blog introduction - (see addition of point #6) - content is offered here from historical print (re: vintage discoveries), so I welcome counterpoint (likewise from historical print, that is) that does indeed seclude German diecuts to a time before the mid-century. In fact, I would be most grateful if anyone would provide an actual account of German diecut manufacturers which, to my knowledge, does not exist?

This leads us to yet another expansion for the availability of certain German diecuts (previously glimpsed in the entry Halloween in Germany: 1955).  In a similar pirate theme, we now have this Narrenfibel 1960 catalog (shown here scanned from the vintage item) that offered its German audience the chance to buy these embossed cardboard items - a Hellcat, Skeleton, and Port Lantern... (see the English translation below the close-up of page 51).

Cover art, illustration featuring romantic clown kissing a mask hanging from chair.

Vintage Halloween collectibles - moveable skeleton, a black cat, and large lantern all of embossed cardboard available for 1960 German Karneval Fasching, Faschnacht

Vintage Halloween collectibles - lantern, black cat, and moveable skeleton.

17. Hafenlanterne, imit. (imitation) Schmiedeeisin 40 cm gross mit grotesken Eulen, Hexen, Kater Ornamenten auf orangefarbenem transparentpapier

17. Imitation-ironwork port lantern 15 3/4" tall with grotesque owls , witch , cat ornamentation on an orange transparent paper. Item 4.50

22. Totenskelett, aus Pappe, gepragt und naturgetreu bemalt, mit beweglichen Gliedern 120 cm gross.

22. Dead skeleton , made ​​of cardboard , embossed and painted lifelike , with movable limbs. 47 1/4" tall . Item 7.50.

24. Hoellenkater 40 cm gross aus Pappe mit groenleuchtenden Augen. paarweise recht, oder linksschauend lieferbar. stuck 2.50  

24. Hellcat 15 3/4” tall made of cardboard with big bright eyes . paired right or left facing . Item 2.50

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Ghost Flight

This week featuring Rust Craft bizarre imagery like these ghosts in a pumpkin carriage pulled by a witch and her cats

If the popularity and inventiveness of Beistle is to vintage Halloween collectibles what The Beatles are to music, then Rust Craft is Tones on Tail or perhaps The Creatures of alterna-eighties - somewhat (yet thankfully) obscure and magically bizarre. (Apologies for the lo-fi quality of these images)... 

For more Rust Craft, see also: Ain't Grub Grand! or Gold Filigree Halloween.

Ghosts in pumpkin carriage pulled through the dark forest by a witch and her black cats.

Elves, bats, black cats, witches, ghosts, and more on these vintage Halloween set of place cards by Rust Craft circa 1920s

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Time Capsule Ghosts

A vintage Halloween collectibles blog.

Does excluding the knowledge of other fields in turn affect our current understanding of certain vintage collectibles? I would attest that while each of us may have familiarity to large catalogues of past imagery (for example vintage decor images by Beistle, Dennison, Gibson, etc.), we should also ask if we (myself included) fully understand the historical context of their appearance. For example, do we know the full extent of design processes, merchandise production, and business operations ---- all of which are extremely important to properly assess time-capsule discoveries of Halloween items. If we ignore external and/or related variables we might create a powerful but incorrect interpretation.

Just to play devil's advocate (with no reference to current listings) what follows is historical fiction that assumes minimal yet practical knowledge of the past employees of Gibson and Dennison. Note that photography sub-titles are actual, and images link to source material. And the portraits drawn here are based from this factual photography.

A Tale of Two Employees

Hallie Wiene was hired in the 1910's by the Gibson factory along with a thousand+ head-count of other employees. She performed light assembly and packed orders for millions of manufactured cards and diecuts that rolled off the assembly lines. (Departments such as printing or die-cutting with their multi-ton machinery were separate, while high-profile jobs like creative design, marketing, and sales were also elsewhere in separated offices).

Hallie loved the beautiful designs. During her employment, she squirreled away quite a collection of damaged and/or overstock items that otherwise would have entered the trash bin. She wondered what it would be like to design such products. With some of her small collection, she would cut and paste them, to use as decoration for parties at the office.
Above: 1912. South Framingham, Massachusetts. Two mothers, three children, working on tags for Dennison. Children anemic. Make $10 (more or less) a month. (Library of Congress).

Hallie's distant relative, Glenda, worked for Dennison. Hallie envied Glenda's ability to work from home, but Glenda was far removed from company life. Glenda's employer was large, at one time employing over 3,000 with offices and manufacturing located in different cities, different states. Glenda was somewhat crafty, but she was a world away from viewing the important sketchbooks and pre-die mock-ups created by the all-too distant design team. (She never learned the names of these designers, and that would have been a truly important discovery!) Glenda and children were sometimes gifted the damaged and/or excess stock, and the family sometimes altered the decorations for their parties at home.
Above: Macaroni all spread out on table being cut. Tag tying (for Dennison) going on at same table. 1912. Photograph and caption by Lewis Wickes Hine (Library of Congress archive).

Are these portraits plausible? Again, the portraits are built on factual images yet the above is historical fiction, and offered merely as counterpoint to exuberant dreams that sometimes riddle the world of collectibles. These portraits are welcome to grow and change as we gather more facts about employee life at these companies...

Earlier entries on this blog which examine assumption and reality include: Halloween Diecut Quiz (that reviews our knowledge of the diecut process), Bogie Books | Bogus Bindings (that questions assumptions of book publishing), as well as Halloween in Germany:1955 (from a series of entries questioning the production/availability history of German-made diecuts).

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Ghostly Flexatones

Jack O'Lantern Noisemaker Graphics from the Flex-A-Tone Musical Sound Effect

This entry is dedicated to arguably one of the most ignored Halloween noisemakers of vintage collectibles - the Flex-a-tone (wikipedia). Its minimal graphics (opposed to artwork that lifts others into triple digits) may forever hold the value of this particular item down (as of this writing) to about $10-$25, and yet for audiophiles it could in fact be the most desirable of any in this genre. Contrary to other noisemakers with their monotonous racket, the musical sound of a Flex-a-tone was used in the recording studios of classic cartoons and vintage jazz for its glissando effect - a warbling that changes tone - something like a ghost crawling up and down your spine.

You probably recognized that sound instantly and can likely name a few tunes or shows where you've heard it? (For example, one person identified it used in the film Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977) whenever the evil sorceress Zenobia made her appearance). Well, it's been around for much longer. An invention for a flexatone occurs in the British Patent Records of 1922 and 1923. In 1924 the 'Flex-a-tone' was patented in the USA by the Playatone Company of New York (wikiedpedia). Here's one example of the effect used in a vintage cartoon Scrappy's Ghost Story (1935), making its eerily sonic appearance at about 1:18 into the animation (and appearing in quite a few other places during the song such as 1:53 to heighten the lyrics "I'm a ghost. Whoo-oo-oooo!"):

Below are a few photographs of the vintage Halloween version of the Flex-a-tone (exact date of production unknown). 

Halloween Jack O'Lantern pumpkin graphics on ghost sound effect.

Vintage Halloween collectibles noisemaker

Close-up of vintage ghost Halloween sound effect instrument.

Shown below are some vintage ads... but you might be interested to know that professional Flex-a-tones style instruments are still sold in at least two different sizes. I have seen them available from a few online stores including Latin Percussion.

Here are some more links on the vintage Flex-a-tone:

Saturday, March 26, 2016


Sample of Gibson 1930's diecut graphics - Skeleton at a gravestone.

Some items, like German diecuts and tin toys, repeatedly cycle through the market, perhaps indicating that if it's in a book or often listed on ebay that its not really a rare item at all --- or maybe those items just get attention simply because they've been loudly identified? While this noise continues with a known set of collectibles, occasionally some items are a genuine surprise. The item shown in this post, and not even in that good of condition, stunned quite a few people, even old-school enthusiasts. Why are we still lacking in information about some items, even the not so rare?

Here's a digital rendering of how this diecut might have appeared as whole, noting that the bottom right corner (paw and tombstone area) is obvious artistic license based on the Gibson style. Digital version (above) and photo (below) as shared on facebook Vintage Halloween

Black cat and skeleton at gravestone epitaph - If you let the grass grow under your feet, it might as well grow over your head!
Digital re-creation based on image below.

Image as seen on facebook Vintage Halloween.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Diecut Bubble 2

What is the true production and availability dates of German embossed Halloween diecuts?

Do you have any concerns about the assessed rarity and value of German-made diecuts in your collection? It may be of interest to view a series of earlier entries here that show a number of diecuts (formerly dated 1920s-40s) instead appeared to have been on the market in the 1950s (Halloween in Germany:1955) through the 1960s (Seven Spooks in Narrenfibel) reaching all the way to the mid-1970s  (Dead Skeletons). As a possible reflection on what may be newer perspectives, or just post-holiday doldrums, here are some interesting auction results from January 2016... that are well below typical values suggested by various guides.

Jack O'Lantern and Mickey Mouse style characters made of embossed cardboard.
Sold for $125 ($25 each) plus auction fees.

Embossed cardboard, painted orange and black for Halloween.
Sold for $80 ($27 each) plus auction fees.

Flying owl, perched owl, and owl on the chin of a quarter moon.
Sold for $90 ($30 each) plus auction fees.

Trio of pumpkins and a black cat are credited as early century German production.
Sold for $0 - auction passed

Common and uncommon diecuts - decorations from holidays past.
Sold for $125 ($31 each) plus auction fees.

An interesting collection of witches and black cats, and a moon, are well know images of holidays past.
Sold for $125 ($31 each) plus auction fees.

Black cats and Jack O'Lanterns and quarter moon pieces with witch, pumpkin goblin, and arched cat.
Sold for $200 ($40 each) plus auction fees.

The last photograph is interesting in that the top two diecuts pictured have been presumed of rare 1920-1930 production dates, as mentioned above, yet recently discovered in oversea publications from a much more recent period. These two were for sale in 1965...!? (See pages below from the 1965 Einzinger Narrenfibel catalog).

What is the true vintage age of collectible Halloween German diecuts? This catalog (center top) dates a set of 9 to 1965.

It will be interesting to see how any of the diecuts fare should buyers resell through a different market. Two were already resold at roughly 3x the amount shown. There is the ongoing question of prices in relation to venue and visibility (an effect mentioned in an earlier entry Diecut Bubble?). For example, below are ten Beistle diecuts (from the same auction above) initially sold at an extremely reasonable purchase price of $275 plus fees.

Witches, pumpkins, Jols, skeletons, black cats, owls, pirates, and more from American holidays of yesteryear.
Sold for $275 ($28 each) plus auction fees.

The same diecuts made their way to another venue (ebay) and were sold separately for a group total of roughly $1250! The larger $1000 portion of that amount was due solely on one very determined buyer. How do we assess the true value of these pieces? First price, second price, or would it fall somewhere in between?

There are more treats in vintage collectibles than are imagined in your Halloween dreams. If you are not keeping track of the all-too numerous items (especially items previously thought to be rare) that hit the market, then this gallery, a fraction of what becomes available, may be of interest:

Follow VINTAGE Halloween Hoards on Pinterest.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Who was GM Co?

Black cat driving a Jack O'Lantern car from a vintage halloween candy container circa 1940s.

A well-known admirer of vintage Halloween currently credits a series of candy containers, pull-toys and rockers (constructed of paper-laminated cardboard) to General Merchandise Company of the 1940s-1950s. Determination appears based on the bottom abbreviation of G.M. CO., but what is the historical record of this company and of its product output? 

As of this writing, I find no iteration of a plausible General Merchandise Company referred to as G.M. Co. (for example  - The Treasury that was at one time named General Merchandise Company has no evident markings of G.M. Co. on its catalogs). As well, other than a few known series of holiday containers (for Easter, Valentines Day, Halloween see below marked G.M. Co), I find no other products via an internet search. Note that research is made difficult because general merchandise is a common term of business categorization such as dry goods; many businesses could describe themselves as a general merchandise company.

Halloween slot-and-tab box illustration of green-skinned witch flying through the night sky.

Witch driving a show, witch at a cauldron, cat driving a pumpkin, and black cat sailor with owl - circa 1940s.

Above are five of the six slot-and-tab candy containers that are known to exist in this series. This series is marked G.M. CO. HRS-A thru F (Not shown above is a skeleton with a JOL in a pull cart (A). These are said to be from the 1940s.

Large item series of pull toys dated to the 1940s by the GM Co. with flowing brush stroke illustrations.

The above item is from a small series of large-sized pull toys. This one is marked RH-6D-GM.  A skeleton with a JOL in a wheelbarrow is 6A, a cat with a JOL in a convertible is 6C, which should leave space for an as yet unidentified character 6B or perhaps more? In the same style as these pull-toys there is a large pumpkin-toy rocker marked as RH-7. These are said to be from the 1950s.

Do you have any firm information about G.M. CO. that would solve this interesting mystery?