I’m a fan of Halloween. Not so much the gross stuff but the spooky, kooky fun part. The carving pumpkins and handing out candy part. And especially the decorating part. It may come as no surprise that I have a soft spot for vintage Halloween decorations. Iconic images of black cats, pumpkins, owls and witches really speak to me during this season.
Last year I happily discovered the Vintage Beistle Halloween website. Beistle is the oldest and largest manufacturer of decorations and party goods in the United States. They’ve been producing seasonal decorations since 1900. Their older designs are mostly 3 dimensional “fan” decor, garland, and flat (sometimes jointed) illustrations. On their website you can buy reproductions of some of their best early images. I bought a set of these 1950s cat themed cutouts:
Aren’t they great? Is the witch really small or is the cat really big? I love the mix of fun and fantasy in these old designs. Each cutout is about 9 inches long and on heavy card stock. I just prop them up on a book shelf and they make a lovely nostalgic display.
You don’t even have to buy reproductions to get Beistle products however. New stock is available from the company every year, and sometimes older stock gets mixed in with new designs. I found these large cutouts at one of those pop up Halloween stores a few years ago. They’re dated 1986 and I’m pretty sure I had the exact same ones in my grade school classrooms! Does anyone else remember that flaming skull?
Beistle and other types of paper decorations are considered “ephemera” meaning they’re produced to be used for only a short time and then thrown out. They are inexpensive to buy and consequently stored without much care. Because of their temporary nature, antique and vintage paper decorations are hard to find in good condition. Rare designs are highly sought after and prized by collectors.
One thing I love about collecting paper ephemera is the easy storage. Being able to store decorations in envelopes is perfect for small living spaces. Over the years I’ve been tempted to buy larger items like jack-o-lanterns but I haven’t made the jump yet.
Along the same lines, antique and vintage postcards can provide a great variety of spooky images for just a little cost and space. Vintage Halloween postcards can be very strange (lots of pumpkin heads and devils), but they can also be surprisingly funny and sweet. Natural elements like animals and landscapes dominate, with less truly dark or morbid imagery. Quirky little rhymes are also common:
Antique and vintage Halloween decorations celebrate a time when Halloween was a night for a little danger but a lot of fun. Who wants gross when you can have mischievous cats and jolly pumpkins? Or skeleton pumpkins trying to sweet talk a witch? Weird Halloween is the best Halloween, and the best Halloween is vintage.