Saturday, June 15, 2019

Garden Path Collectibles

Deco image of black cats in a garden - seller, adviser, buyer

Like a bit of everything these days, a collectibles onlooker might wonder if second-hand markets are touched by the effects of social (dis)information, as we find ourselves led down the garden path toward curious acquisitions.  (Other entries discussing the jumbled landscape of assumption, visibility, and resale include: Bloody Paper CutsTime Capsule GhostsYesterday's Prices at Today's AuctionsDiecut Bubble?Diecut Bubble 2, as well as entry one which outlined issues of market engineering - Sane Halloween Observers).

While the activity of resale itself is not in question, we are however in an era when experts and promoters tossed out the conflict-of-interest rulebook to instead shake hands with sellers (not always with examination of wares) at the crossroads. Overall result - altered, improperly dated, and mis-identified items reaching escalated prices without censure.


Two blue-eyed skulls circa 1920s with paper damage of crossbones removed
Example one: the two skulls above were shorn of their crossbones, yet separately completed resales (from a guide's recommended re-seller) meant the unfortunate buyers paid around $40-50 each.  
To examine why we might take the any-and-everything approach to purchasing, here's one scenario that occurs often enough:
  1. a recommended re-seller scours a venue of less visible listings, buying at bargain-bin savings 
  2. this new 2nd-tier owner (not always a collector) re-lists but with high visibility together with a vocal expert's praise, so that 
  3. 3rd-tier buyers (some with seeming limitless cash as well as an awareness for the process) lift the final price to untenable results. 
Therefore when middle vendors are never put to task for poorer listings then all their items are lifted. The public then seem fine buying whatever they list. (Note too, once you see this, it's not hard to miss as items pass from venue to venue - particularly when the Re-seller Wars of 2018 escalated and decorum between re-sellers was dumped in a race to re-sell one another's listings to the next highest spender).

Perhaps this a good time for people to acquaint themselves with Tulip mania?

One lot of 3 black cat in the garden with owl vintage paper ephemera
Example two: the three items above were bought online and are slowly being resold by a guide's recommended re-seller. The first was a guide-promoted sale (to deep pockets) multiplying the original purchase price for at least one card to a factor of 9x - with no mention of erasure nor added tassel. The second and third resold with no erasure yet with an added tassel. 
I suppose we could argue this is the game of resale, yet what are the lasting effects to market and valuation when middlemen play such influence on the narrative? While someone trained in statistics and probability (or at least all the time in the world to watch this stuff) will have no problem identifying the generated skews (such as price), what though of the general public unaware of such processes as those outlined herein - particularly when their purchasing decisions are connected to the stories (not necessarily the facts)? Perhaps an answer is for more guides to recommend objects over sellers, but how do such commentators separate the two when there is such apparent difficulty (or disregard) for keeping an eye on a fickle and complicated market? Once again it may all come down to the buyer. While it is just fine to find a guide through the garden, you yourself might want to push back a few weeds here and there along the way.

*****

If you are not keeping track of the 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:

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Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Bloody Paper Cuts

This entry offers information on diecuts and what is fake versus authentic.

As more and more vintage Halloween (the stuff no one was said to have retained) continues to crawl out of the woodwork, there have been haunting miscalculations of authenticity of paper items during the past few years, and the 2018 season is sadly no different The problem seems to be a continuing knowledge gap about what a diecut actually is, and how to spot either fakes and/or altered pieces. And this season was again proof that as a buyer you need some good initial knowledge of true vintage (in any medium) as apparently both field expert and recommended seller prove that nobody is perfect.

As a subject introduction, I would point you to an earlier entry that introduces the concept and process of the diecut: Halloween Diecut Quiz. While in the entry that follows here, I will show you examples of true diecuts. I trust that once you know how to spot true paper, you should in theory be able to recognize the opposite.


In our first occurrence this autumn we had an established guide directing people to paper goods that were of questionable legitimacy. While there is likely no faulting the seller who may have unknowingly offered a range of true and questionable items, the fact that an expert didn't acknowledge any red flags is concerning. How then can you be a more informed buyer?

First you need to know certain companies, especially early era, could change color, size, and paper (thickness, surface) over subsequent releases of a design. Beistle is one such company that you may not always finish a set by collecting known imagery; you have to make sure you have the correct variation of the set. This occurred with their earlier Complete Party Outfits (below) and their later Halloween Party Set (in book, box, and envelope, not shown). I want to account for this - using a couple of Beistle set variation with one more obvious, and one challenging - so that qualities (not variations) indicate real vintage.

The Sane Halloween Observer examines this vintage Halloween collectible.

The first set (directly following) was printed on thin/medium matte stock, and were punch-outs from a larger sheet. (Examine in detail by clicking the images and I have provided an occasional zoom).

An example of a vintage die cut by Beistle with candles and jack o'lanterns. Front.
Set 1, Photo 1 (nut cup base)

An example of a vintage die cut - backside.
Set 1, Photo 2 (nut cup base)

Already, you should see that while the circles may not be entirely perfect the arcs are generally smooth and sweeping; in contrast a fake scissor cut is often jagged. Also in this set there is the occasional little blip along the edge. This was the absence of the die, and uncut kept the item in place until the customer was ready to pull from the larger sheet. 

Note too that dies cut downward, like a stamp, into the print, so the cut usually creates a softer caving-edge on the top. On the bottom you will notice a lip. (For a truly obvious example, see the image at bottom of these two sets). Also, don't worry too much about alignment issues; the printed image is usually not where the die falls.

An example of a vintage die cut by Beistle with creepy crawly bugs. Front.
Set 1, Photo 3

An example of a vintage die cut - backside.
Set 1, Photo 4

Then here is an image of the nut cup side still in place with the surrounding sheet. This is a great example of how the print doesn't often align with the cuts. But maybe more importantly notice the downward push of the paper around the cut lines, and smoothness of certain curves, especially ones that might be hard to reproduce with a pair of scissors.

An example of a vintage die cut by Beistle with bats and bugs. Intact.
Set 1, Photo 5

An example of a vintage die cut by Beistle showing print lines versus cut lines
Set 1, Photo 6

An example of a vintage die cut by Beistle, front side, slot and tab design.
Set 1, Photo 7



This second set is an advanced challenge for the eyes. It's honestly pretty sloppy for an industrial product, but again, look closely. I actually hesitated here to declare some of these true diecuts myself, as they do have some weirdness but see the points below. You can still differentiate these from fakes. Note immediately the changes in art style, a gloss-top/matte-back paper choice and I should also measure.

Vintage Halloween collectible. examined by The Sane Halloween Observer

So we don't have totally perfect circles here in photos 1 and 2 below, but that's the shape of the die, not a casual freehanded cut. This is most likely true vintage because of the neat arcs and the occasional dull blip that is caused by a gap in the die (where the circle would have been physically torn from the surrounding paper - which tells me this was probably also sold in large sheets). 

Example vintage Beistle diecut with candles and jack o'lanterns. Front.
Set 2, Photo 1

An example of a vintage die cut - backside.
Set 2, Photo 2

What really defines this as a true diecut is seen in the slot of photos 3 and 4. As a die pushed down into the paper it forced the printed side just a bit downward as well. There is somewhat of a dip in that slot. It's more obvious from the back, and this is the tell-tale lip I am always going on about. See how the die pushing through the paper caused a raised area around the cut? You will not see that with a scissor or knife cut. 

Example vintage Beistle diecut with bugs and tiles. Front.
Set 2, Photo 3

An example of a vintage die cut - backside.
Set 2, Photo 4

Okay, well remember I mentioned this set was challenging to a good eye? This piece is actually quite a hastily created die shape and almost appears hand cut. But again I think this is the shape of the die. What tips me to think this is a true diecut - is the slot. Again, as above, we have the slight canyon effect of the die pushing the print side downward in photo 7. 

Example vintage Beistle diecut with bat motif design. Front.
Set 2, Photo 5

Example vintage Beistle diecut with creepy crawlies.
Set 2, Photo 6

Vintage Beistle diecut with bats and bugs. Front side detail.
Set 2, Photo 7

What I would ultimately prefer to do for this second set (particularly the tabbed nutcup sides) would be to hold a piece from this set up against another known set, and see if the outline shape align therefore verifying a die was used to cut each on an assembly line process. This would be where either some previous knowledge or good networking with the Halloween community comes in handy.

Note, that as thickness increases it is often easier to discern the qualities described above. Though it is from neither set mentioned, take this Beistle item for example. The lip on the edge is almost a smallish well-defined track around the edges.

An example of a vintage die cut - backside.




So the image above leads properly to our second 2018 season occurrence.

In this instance, a recommended seller listed an item with an assumption it was a fully designed piece as-is, therefore not altered nor fake. While the imagery was fun, (if somewhat incomplete), the assumption without examination to mechanical operation was disappointing. Creative artists weren't just printing out images and calling them nutcups, invitation, place cards, etc., without forethought that the piece actually worked in the manner expected. Worse yet, the item made its way through the full process of sales, and found itself a new home. This means the seller, either unwittingly or willfully, listed the product regardless of its veracity ---- so as stated in the introduction, buyer be knowledgeable!

Let's take any placecard as a completely random example. The first function of any placecard is placement (perhaps to direct a partygoer at a table), and a manner for identifying that placement. Therefore, placecards are very inventive in offering a place for the name to be written. I think it's rather obvious here below.

Front side of placecard with ghost, jack o'lanterns, and black cat is a true diecut.

But there is something else happening here that is hard to explain, and that is logical image placement in relation to the cut lines. Again, creatives knew cut lines weren't going to line up with the printed image and therefore planned accordingly. If your "diecut" has strange unresolved bits (an indication that you're not getting the full picture near those cut lines) then you probably don't have a true item.

An example of a vintage die cut - backside.

Finally, there is the mechanical function of a placecard. There was an astounding wealth of inventiveness to early designs - and their manner of bending space to stand upright, etc. Above we see not only the diecut's lip around all deliberate edges, but also the use of dulled edges on the die to create a fold line to make this piece stand. If your piece has neither of these, then it is 99.9% unauthentic.


Anyway, I hate to be a killjoy, as apparently close examination of true items versus fake seems to actually offend certain folks. But hopefully you are reading this blog because you have a true curiosity for these items and their fascinating industrial, creative background. As I stated in the previous entry, in writing these articles I have neither contact with current commentators, book authors, nor sales people (that often overlap) in order to prevent a biased conflict of interest.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Timeline for Witches

Reviewing archival records and catalogs that compare two vintage witch decorations available 1930s, 1940s, 1950s.

As a collector of vintage Halloween, I feel it is worth the extra steps to research the minutiae of these items' history for myself. And of the types of decor, this blog has frequently reflected on German imports (specifically time discrepancies per dates in modern guidebooks) --- but how about the historical availability of American-made merchandise?

Mulling over vintage catalogs now for both German and the U.S., I started to consider the creation of a timeline that would test the reference dates provided in various guides. Therefore this entry is an exercise, perhaps proving the wisdom in expanding one's available resources. And again I would stress that much of the content here (as with previously presented German catalogs) is pulled directly from archival records.

Following then are two timelines for two different witches --- American and German.

Dingbat visual blog divider for Vintage Halloween Collectibles blog.

First up is this iconic witch (one-sided at 15"x23") by Beistle described in one catalog as "Always a popular Halloween character and a splendid wall or background decoration." In one recently printed guidebook* she is curtly dated as mid-1930s. In another (by an author* who visited the Beistle archives) the item is stated as having an initial release (which is a thoughtfully open-ended phrase) of 1933 with a print run lasting at least until 1949 (the end timeline for that book). While I am apt to trust the archive-referenced resource, I would still ask myself --- do we have any proof from past suppliers? And the answer is yes, with some surprising expansions of sale dates. Here's the Beistle witch timeline based on available resources.

Review of  timeline for American kitsch Halloween decoration from the 1930s to the 1950s.
1933
Beistle Witch: Initial Release Date
(source: Timeless Halloween Collectibles 1920-1949, Claire M. Lavin)
Resource book on vintage Halloween collectibles because author visited the Beistle archives.
Dingbat visual blog divider for Vintage Halloween Collectibles blog.
1934
Gellman Brothers (source: collection of blogger)
Dingbat visual blog divider for Vintage Halloween Collectibles blog.
1936
Gellman Brothers (source: collection of blogger)
Slack MFG (source: collection of blogger)
Resource catalog for vintage Halloween collectibles that contains Beistle's witch decoration and other crepe, noisemakers, etc.
Dingbat visual blog divider for Vintage Halloween Collectibles blog.
1937
N. Shure (source: online auction item)
Dingbat visual blog divider for Vintage Halloween Collectibles blog.
1938 
Dingbat visual blog divider for Vintage Halloween Collectibles blog.
1940 
Levin Brothers (source: Ben Truwe's Halloween Catalog Collection)
General Merchandise Co. (source: Ben Truwe's Halloween Catalog Collection)
Dingbat visual blog divider for Vintage Halloween Collectibles blog.
1941
General Merchandise Co. (source: Ben Truwe's Halloween Catalog Collection)
Slack MFG (source: collection of blogger)
Resource catalog for vintage Halloween collectibles that contains Beistle's witch decoration as well as lanterns, crepe, noisemakers, etc.
Dingbat visual blog divider for Vintage Halloween Collectibles blog.
1947 
Gellman Brothers (source: Ben Truwe's Halloween Catalog Collection)
Dingbat visual blog divider for Vintage Halloween Collectibles blog.
1948
Beistle (source: dragonflydesignstudio & collection of blogger)
Catalog page of vintage Halloween collectibles by Beistle with witch decoration as well as pumpkins, black cats, scarecrows, etc.
Dingbat visual blog divider for Vintage Halloween Collectibles blog.
1952
Gellman Brothers (source: Ben Truwe's Halloween Catalog Collection)
Dingbat visual blog divider for Vintage Halloween Collectibles blog.
1953 
Pico Novelty Co. (source: Ben Truwe's Halloween Catalog Collection)
Dingbat visual blog divider for Vintage Halloween Collectibles blog.
  1954
Optican Brothers (source: Ben Truwe's Halloween Catalog Collection)
Gordon Novelty Co. (source: Ben Truwe's Halloween Catalog Collection)
Beistle "Bee-Line" (source: internet, unk.)Two catalog pages of vintage Halloween collectibles that has Beistle's witch decoration as well as skulls and jack-o-lanterns, etc.
Dingbat visual blog divider for Vintage Halloween Collectibles blog.
1955
Gordon Novelty Co. (source: Ben Truwe's Halloween Catalog Collection)
 Dingbat visual blog divider for Vintage Halloween Collectibles blog.
1959
Pico Novelty Co. (source: collection of blogger)
Optican Brothers (source: Ben Truwe's Halloween Catalog Collection)
Willens & Company (source: internet)
Dingbat visual blog divider for Vintage Halloween Collectibles blog.
1958-1959
Moratorium Date?
Not appearing: Beistle "Bee-Line" 
(source: Euclid Boo)
Cover of Beistle catalog - these provide great reference for vintage Halloween collectibles.

Be aware that the above timeline is not simply wholesalers (1934-1959) with possible overstock, but also the actual manufacturer (1948, 1954) who created the item for sale to the trade at relatively recent dates! (Note of course that you should not confuse vintage decorations with newer variations by Beistle). 

Second, what about one of those embossed diecut witches from Germany? This is where it gets murky. Again, no expert of collectibles has come forward with any firm manufacturer history, and the U.S. catalog presence for these items is fairly spotty. Let's take a look at the following witch.

Review of  timeline for German-made spooky Halloween decoration 1940s.
1920's?
German Witch: Release Date?
(source: generalized date with no cited references in current guidebooks)
Dingbat visual blog divider for Vintage Halloween Collectibles blog.
1929?
German diecuts but not this item
N. Shure (source: online auction item)
Dingbat visual blog divider for Vintage Halloween Collectibles blog.
1936?
German diecuts but not this item
Slack MFG (source: collection of blogger)
Dingbat visual blog divider for Vintage Halloween Collectibles blog.
1937?
German diecuts but not this item
The Herald (source: ad in a newspaper)
Dingbat visual blog divider for Vintage Halloween Collectibles blog.
1948
Shackman (source: online auction item)
Resource catalog for vintage Halloween collectibles contains German witch decoration as well as lanterns, etc.

1955-1970's?
German diecuts but not this item
Einzinger's Narrenfibel (source: collection of blogger)
?
End Date Unclear

Quite a difference between these two witches. We have one with a very clear timeline full of archival catalogs, compared to a second with extremely little in way of referential evidence (that when she does appear is nowhere near the date in our modern guidebook). I'm going to let you draw the conclusions. 

I would also mention, if you would like to see more pages from the catalogs listed above (and thus help expand your available resources), see this facebook group: Halloween Antiques. You are sure to create some very eye-opening timelines! And again, since it was so often referenced, is a link to Ben Truwe's Halloween Catalog Collection.

*Please note (because of distracting tribalism and cronyism in the market) it is preferred here that entries consult the historical record and market results rather than the conflicting overlap of promotional commentators, appointed experts, and sales people that often overlap.