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Papier-maché Halloween decoration stands test of time

By JERRY SAMPSON

Personal Effects

Question: Hi Jerry, I picked up this paper jack-o’-lantern a few months ago. What can you tell me about it? I paid $20 for it. Please tell me it’s old and I didn’t get taken. Thanks for your time in looking at this.

Answer: I can tell you that you have not been taken. You’ve got a wonderful papier-maché jack-o’-lantern that’s very collectible and displayable. This piece dates to the late 1920s to the 1930s. Yes, there was a time kids actually got a candle stuck inside of a paper receptacle and carried it up and down the street. This is one reason that many didn’t survive. Germany was the queen of cheap and colorful Halloween decorations.

I feel that your piece is likely made in the USA. This was from an early period of a more gentle and spooky Halloween.

Jack-o’-lantern can trace their lineage back to the folk tales of Ireland when a nasty character named Jack carried a burning coal from Hell inside a hollowed out turnip. Of course, in time this became a pumpkin or other squash. Personally, I think it would be very hard to hollow out a turnip.

Christmas is still the reigning holiday specter. But let me tell you, Halloween is giving Ol’ St. Nick a run for his money. Every year Halloween grows in popularity and appeal. This makes the older or more folky pieces more and more collectible day by day. Remember, there was a time that this was considered ephemera, an item that wasn’t meant to be saved. It would have just been tossed out.

Much like the crepe paper decorations, name cards, paper or hand made costumes, candy containers and on and on.

Today, these things are worth money. Sometimes a lot of money. Pieces like your lantern were mass produced in factories and could have been jobbed out to homes to be painted and decorated. At one time, your eyes and mouth was backed with a decorated tissue paper so that they would glowed all spooky with a flickering candle behind it.

This is almost gone. I mean come on — this is paper and had a candle in it. I’m surprised it survived at all.

At good shows, these more common lanterns are priced at about $75, so you did alright. Enjoy it.

It’s a great piece. And its season is coming up soon. But for that matter, hard core collectors of Halloween display all year long. Thanks for sharing it.