It seems to me that much of the most highly collected Halloween items of the past could be classed as ephemera because it was designed to be used and then thrown away. Or it was made of materials that deteriorated quickly and were discarded after a few years of reuse.
Halloween, as a commonly celebrated US event, truly came into its own in the very early 1920s. Parties then were primarily for adults, with guests settling in to play mahjong, bridge or other games. Tables and walls would be decorated with a wide array of Halloween-themed items, really setting the party’s mood. The games’ winners would be given prizes to take home, like candy containers, lanterns or noisemakers. Only later did “trick or treating” come into vogue, with the holiday becoming more oriented toward children.
The imagery of vintage Halloween items through the 1940s is very memorable. The pumpkin, or its more humanized incarnation, the Jack-O-Lantern, is the most common image. Next most common are black cats, skeletons and owls. Mor rare are witches, veggie people and bats, with the rarest being devils. This means that within any given genre, devil imagery is the rarest to find.
The imagery of the older Halloween pieces is significantly different than imagery common from the 1950s through today. The imagery was meant to provoke a reaction – generally a horrific one! The pieces were, in many instances, meant to scare. More recent Halloween imagery is,in comparison, pedestrian, cute and dull. Since Halloween items are notoriously hard to accurately date, one rule of thumb used is this: the scarier the imagery, the older the item!