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Jack-o'-Lanterns Worth Saving

More than $2 billion was spent on Halloween decorations, candy, costumes and party goods last year, making it the second most popular holiday in America. CBS News Saturday Morning's collectibles expert Tony Hyman explains this holiday is now being celebrated longer and by a greater number of people.


Some sociologists say it appeals to people because there is no pressure to give gifts, send cards or attend religious services. Most people are familiar with the symbols of Halloween - jack-o'-lanterns, ghosts, bats, witches, skeletons and black cats - but few know about Halloween's history.

Crepe paper rolls were among the earliest Halloween decorations and one of the most attractive and flexible to use. They were used to decorate walls, tables and even made into costumes.

In 1912, Dennison, a major paper products company, made four Halloween designs in crepe:

  • witch and kettle
  • witch parade
  • cats and bats
  • yellow pumpkins
These rolls were 20 inches wide, 10 feet long and cost 10 cents. By 1921, the cost was 30 cents and dozens of designs were available.

The symbol that captures the Halloween spirit is the jack-o'-lantern, or carved pumpkin. The earliest jack-o'-lanterns were made in Germany of composition or pressed paper, resembling plaster of Paris.

They had cutouts for the eyes, nose and mouth, often backed with thin colored paper.

By the 1920s, pressed and formed paperboard and die-cut flat paperboard varieties were beginning to supercede the composition kind.

This was followed by American-made papier mache ones in the 1930s. Lithographed flat cardboard lanterns also began to appear in the 1930s.

Plastic entered the scene in the 1950s and the candle was replaced by the battery and bulb.

The earliest candy containers were glass bottles in the shape of a witch or a jack-o'-lantern.

These were followed by vegetable people, cats, pumpkin men and other scary little creatures made of composition, a plaster-like material.

Most composition pieces date back to 1920, but they may have been around as early as 1912 or as late as the 1930s.

Pressed paperboard candy containers were made in the early 1900s and probably as late as the 1950s. These were formed in a mold, pressed and heated to make convex surfaces. The shaped board was then put together, coated and painted.

There are generally two styles of containers. In one, a part removes or a plug opens and the candy is inside the figure.

In the other, the figure stands on a small box that held the candy. The addition of glass eyes or noses or some mechanical aspect adds a premium to the price and the best were made in Germany.

Most store-bought costumes from the 1940s to the 1960s are collectible. With the original box they usually sell for less than $25.

Costumes relating to popular TV shows or cartoons, including I Dream of Jeanie, The Adams Family, and Donald Duck, or even one for ohn Glenn may sell for more. In order to resell a costume, it must be in good condition.

Since Halloween decorations are not usually saved from year to year, like Christmas decorations, they are all fairly difficult to find. Items that can fetch thousands of dollars at auction are usually candy containers and unusual jack-o'-lanterns.

Most of these valuable items were made in Germany from 1910 to the 1930s, with time out for the World War I embargo on German goods.

Good German candy containers usually start at $200 and move up quickly. Another expensive item collectors look for is the 1920s version of the unusual jack-o'-lantern. These usually start at $150 and again move upward quickly with some selling for a thousand dollars or more.

For more information on Halloween collectibles, contact Stuart Schneider, author of Halloween in America: A Collector's Guide. Schneider's email address is stuart@wordcraft.net.



Find out about other collectibles described by CBS News Saturday Morning's Tony Hyman in the Collectibles Archive. Or visit Tony Hyman's Web site.

If you think you have a collectible worth a lot of cash, send an email to sat@cbsnews.com. Put "What's It Worth?" in the subject line, or write to "What's It Worth?" CBS News Saturday Morning, 514 West 57th St., 6th floor, New York, N.Y. 10019.

Because of the volume of mail received, Saturday Morning can't respond to all requests, but some will be selected and featured on the program in the near future.

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