Saturday, February 17, 2018

Ghost Cellar Jazz

Jazz band skeletons (excerpt image from German 1965 catalog) are considered (incorrectly?) vintage Halloween collectibles from the 1930s.

Even though the last entry here was almost two years past, that doesn't mean research ceased. With assistance, I have since pieced together a rather large collection of imported Einzinger Narrenfibel catalogs (some seen here in previous entries), and this 1965-1967 edition was particularly one I had been looking forward to obtaining based on known excerpts; it also turned out to be quite the prize given the additional surprises! With this in hand, I'm still trying to figure out why it is assumed by old-school experts (as yet offering zero counter evidence in print) that paper items from Germany ceased after WWII - even though items assumed as 1930s are found here in this 1965 catalog.

Discussion of the Narrenfibel Catalog containing items considered to be vintage Halloween collectilbes
Einzinger Narrenfibel 65

Question! Is the tale of certain German mask makers for Karneval (and world export) similar to what occurred with embossed German diecuts? The timeline seems to match. Take Manebach, for example: -"Manebach masks were trendy in the 1930s. Lack of material and sales difficulties were the reason why in 1960 the Thuringian mask factory Heintz & Kühn closed their doors. After the closure of the mask and paper lantern factory Eilers and Meyin, 1971, these products were no longer made there. Gone were the days when Manebach carnival items were sold on every continent."  For full article see: "Manebach was once a stronghold of mask making" (Manebach war einst eine Hochburg der Maskenfabrikation).

Until the mystery is solved, here are a few pages from this incredible 99 page catalog offering items for sale 1965-1967 in Germany. I have added rough translations to certain items of interest below the images.

Dimensional 4-legged black cat German diecut from 1965 German katalog not vintage Halloween collectible.

Page 36 -

#19 Hollenkater, 40 cm gross. Pappe, Leuchtaugen, paarweise rechts - oder linksschauend lieferbar. Stuck 2.50. 
#19 Hellcat, 15.75 in. tall. Cardboard, bright eyes, in pairs right - or left-facing available. Piece 2.50.

German diecut cats and pumpkins, devil, and skeleton band seen here for Karneval, not vintage Halloween collectibles.

Page 49 -

#3 Blocksberg-Fries. 40 cm breit, 2 m lang, grune Wandleiste aus kraftigem Krepp Papier, mit 7 verscheidenen Spuk- gesellen aus gepragtem Karton. Fries 12.50.
#3 Block Mountain frieze. 15.75 in. wide, 78.75 in. long, green wall strip made of strong crepe paper, with 7 different Spooks made of embossed cardboard. Frieze 12.50. ***

#4 Geister-Kulisse. bestehend aus 4 zusammensetzbaren schwarzen Kartontafeln, je 68x96 cm gross, mit ausgeschnittenen, farbig hinterklebten Motiven, vin ruckwarts beleuchtbar. Satz mit 4. Stuck 24.
#4 Ghost-backdrop. Consisting of 4 black cardboard panels, each 26.75 in. x 37.80 in. in size, with cut-out motifs that are pasted in ghost-backdrop. Can be illuminated from behind. Set of 4 pieces 24.

#5 Jazz im Geisterkeller. 4 verschiedene Figuren, 37 cm gross, aus starkem Karton, mit Aufsteller. Sortiment 3,50.
#5 Jazz in the ghost cellar. 4 different figures, 14 1/2 in. tall, made of strong cardboard, with easel. Assortment 3.50.

#6 Old-devil. 50 cm gross, aus rotschwarzem Karton, mit Aufstellar. Stuck 3.50.
#6 Old-devil. 19.68 in. Made of red-black cardboard, with easel. Piece 3.50.

Ghosts, spooks, in a giant spider web from a German catalog for Karneval

German embossed cardboard diecuts - pumpkins, black cats, skeleton - said to be vintage Halloween collectibles in USA shown here in German catalog

Page 51 -

#14 Grusel mobile zum aufhangen, mit 8 grotesken motiven, aus starke, gepragtem karton, bunt bemalt, die figuren tanzen bei geringster luftbewegung... komplett 9.50.
# 14 Scary mobile to hang, with 8 grotesque motifs, made of strong, embossed cardboard, painted in color, the figures dance in the slightest air movement ... complete 9.50.

#15 Skelettt, aus starkem Pappkarton geprägt, naturgetreu bemalt, beweglich  70 cm gross Stuck 4.50. / 750 Skelett 125 cm gross. Stuck 7.50. 
#15 Skeleton, embossed from strong cardboard, faithfully painted, movable 27.5 in. large piece 4.50. / 750 Skeleton 50 in. tall. Piece 7.50.

*** Footnotes 

People seem confused that there may have been Halloween celebrations in Germany? No, that's not what you are seeing here. These catalogs were for the celebration of Karneval, Fasching, Fastnacht (and other fantastical celebrations) - which like modern Halloween have different sub-themes. It didn't take a Halloween holiday to fill the German landscape with a long history of spooks, devils, and witches. And you will find these links of additional interest.

Walpurgis' Night, engraving after an illustration by Johann Heinrich Ramberg, 1829

Block Mountain, Blocksberg or Brocken: this Wikipedia entry says "The Brocken has always played a role in legends and has been connected with witches and devils" so again the characters shown above in the catalog were not specifically Halloween subjects -

Goethe described the Brocken in his Faust, first published in 1808, as the center of revelry for witches on Walpurgisnacht (30 April; the eve of St Walpurga's Day).
Now, to the Brocken, the witches ride;
The stubble is gold and the corn is green;
There is the carnival crew to be seen,
And Squire Urianus will come to preside.
So over the valleys, our company floats,
With witches a-farting on stinking old goats.
German Witches: A very interesting read from 2011 on the connection of German history/traditions with marketable American Halloween imagery -

These German witches actually have nothing to do with Halloween; they flew to the mountains on Walpurgis night.

Karneval Masks A good read on the long history of a paper factory that existed from the 1800's all the way through to 1971: "Manebach was once a stronghold of mask making" (Manebach war einst eine Hochburg der Maskenfabrikation).

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 a major pop group is to music, then Rust Craft is the obscure alterna-band you never heard of - 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.