Collecting Vintage Halloween with Category Expert Mark Ledenbach
Given today’s public health realities, the ways we will celebrate Halloween in 2020 may be a little different than in past years. But one thing about this bewitching holiday that remains unchanged is the appeal and charm of vintage Halloween decorations, ephemera, noisemakers, figurines, costumes, and other scary-sweet novelties from times long gone. Auction Daily spoke with author and expert Mark Ledenbach to learn more about this category.
Auction Daily: Please tell us about yourself, your personal collection, and how you champion the vintage Halloween category
Mark Ledenbach: I’ve collected vintage Halloween material since 1988. I was in a local antiques store when the proprietor – who has since become a good friend – asked if I would help her move a few boxes from her storeroom. She wanted to decorate her store’s front windows with the contents. I looked in the boxes and saw lots of old Halloween decorations. I became hooked right then and there. I spent $300 that day, a significant investment at that time! Since then, I have assembled one of the largest collections of pre-1950 vintage Halloween material.
The third edition of my book, Vintage Halloween Collectibles, was published in 2014 and has become a go-to reference for collectors. The hobby has become so expensive (and perilous due to the fakes and fantasy pieces plaguing the hobby) that collectors need a reliable source of information. I have maintained a site since 2003, Halloween Collector. And every May, I conduct an auction of vintage Halloween goods directly through my site, open only to those collectors who have purchased my third edition directly from me. I typically offer about 120 lots, with each lot opening at $10.
AD: Tell us about the range of items that fall within the vintage Halloween collecting framework. What are you seeing enthusiasts collecting today, vs. the trends a decade or two ago?
Ledenbach: U.S. companies began producing a large quantity of Halloween goods around 1913, excluding postcards, which largely began around 1908. The Germans – and to a lesser extent, the Japanese – exported goods roughly in the c. 1910 – 1935 timeframe. These items took all forms: candy containers, figurals, lanterns, shades, games, table decorations, die cuts, small paper-like tally cards, place cards and invitations, and noisemakers like tambourines, shakers, clangers, ratchets, among many others.
Today, collectors seem to be focused more on small paper and die cuts, while noisemakers as a category have cooled considerably. Lanterns, shades, and candy containers have also cooled. The first generation of collectors, beginning pre-1980, largely collected only these market segments. As this generation passes away, large quantities of goods from these categories are hitting the market. First-generation collectors seldom collected paper, so these market segments are white-hot right now and have been for several years. Inventory in collectible condition is in very low supply. As always, rarity is one of the most important drivers of price, alongside the condition.
AD: Yes, vintage paper does seem really desirable now. For example, Charleston Estate Auctions’ September 27th sale featured 39 lots of vintage Halloween postcards and other materials, while Potter & Potter’s September 26th event included a dozen lots of vintage Halloween postcards. Given this demand, are there auction houses that are specifically known for their vintage Halloween sales?
Ledenbach: Two auction houses, Morphy Auctions of Denver, PA, and Bertoia Auctions of Vineland, NJ, have periodic auctions featuring vintage Halloween. I host an auction each May on my website, as well.
AD: Other than traditional auction houses, where are the best places for collectors to find premier examples of vintage Halloween materials? Is there an annual event or meeting dedicated to vintage Halloween collectors?
Ledenbach: On-line auction venues are good, like eBay and Etsy. There are no annual events yet. And with the pandemic, specialty antiques shows have largely shut down.
AD: And finally, does collecting vintage Halloween items have a seasonality to it? Do collectors have their items displayed year round, or do they only come out during the traditional autumn season?
Ledenbach: Most casual collectors probably display seasonally. The less casual collectors almost certainly keep their displays up year-round. Vintage Halloween material sells so well that savvy dealers offer it year-round.
For more information on collecting vintage Halloween treasures, please see Ledenbach’s website.