Halloween-related decorations and objects are among today’s most popular collectibles. The idea of Halloween can be traced back to some ancient Celtic and early Irish celebrations. The name “Halloween” comes from an Irish celebration held on Oct. 31, the day before All Saints’ Day. It also was a harvest festival, so pumpkins and food were featured. But it was not until the early 1900s that Halloween images began to evolve, especially for postcards. Modern collectors consider Halloween postcards made between 1900 and 1920 to be the “best.” Their designs were cute, romantic and funny. Halloween back then was an adult holiday featuring parties and games. It became a children’s holiday, with trick-or-treating and jack-o-lanterns, in the 1940s. Decorations and collectibles became scary and included devils, witches, black cats and skeletons. Today you should look for old die-cut displays, papier-mache jack-o-lanterns and other symbols, noisemakers and costumes — anything that looks like a Halloween item. Most common are papier-mache or plastic “carved” pumpkins, then black cats, skeletons and owls. Higher-priced are witches, bats and odd-looking vegetable people. Most desirable are devils, probably because they’re the hardest to find. But beware. Many copies of old papier-mache figures and candy containers were made in Germany and Asia in the 1990s. They look old, were made from old molds and were originally sold by companies that specialized in sales to flea-market dealers and gift shops. If you are a new collector, save anything this year with a great image, paper trick-or-treat bags, plastic jack-o-lanterns and large talking figures activated with motion detectors. Twenty years from now, these will be the memorabilia wanted by collectors to remind them of their childhood excursions on Halloween.
Q: In the late 1970s, I purchased a slant-front desk from a minister in New Hampshire. Now I would like to sell it. The sticker on the back says “Paine Furniture Company, Makers of Fine Furniture, Boston.” The desk is 46 inches high by 35 inches wide and 10 inches deep. What could I get for the desk?
A: Paine Furniture Co., now located on Cape Cod and called “Paine’s Patio,” traces its history back to 1835. But the company’s name didn’t become “Paine Furniture Co.” until 1928. Paine used brass tags to mark its furniture until 1943, when it switched to cloth tags. It started using paper labels in 1966. So if your desk is marked with a paper sticker, it was made no earlier than 1966. Its value also depends on condition and construction quality. If your desk is well made and in tiptop shape, you might be able to sell it for $100 or more.
Q: I have a doorstop that is shaped like a frog. It says “I croak for the Jackson wagon.” Value and history, please.
A: The frog doorstop was thought to be a political item made for Andrew Jackson’s campaign for president in 1828 or 1832. But 1980s research found that the frog was made in 1880 as a giveaway for the Jackson Wagon Co. of Jackson, Mich. These frogs have sold for $100 to $300 in recent years.
Q: When I was 10 years old, I was given a Mickey Mouse wristwatch. I’m 87 now, so I must have received it in about 1933. Mickey is on the round face and his arms move to tell the time. The strap is black leather. Is it valuable?
A: The very first Mickey Mouse wristwatches were made by Ingersoll-Waterbury Co. in 1933. It was the world’s first “comic character” wristwatch and was made in the same round-face style until 1937. Some had metal bands and others, leather bands. If your watch is indeed the first Mickey model and if it’s in excellent condition, it could sell for $500 or more. If you have the original box, the watch is even more valuable.
Q: Do people collect old menus? I have a 1954 menu from the Stork Club in New York. The cover is a color drawing of the dining room filled with celebrities, including Lana Turner, William Holden and Arthur Godfrey. Inside, the priced menu offers a lobster dinner for $3.75, prime rib for $4.25, ice cream for 85 cents and 16 kinds of potatoes. It also notes that cigarette smoking was allowed in all rooms but cigars were limited to two special rooms.
A: Yes, there are collectors of old menus. Some collectors would like your menu because of its cover picture of movie stars, while many others would like its record of the food served and its prices. We often forget that in the 1950s, middle-class men (few wives worked outside the home) making $75 a week were well-paid. The dollar of that day is worth about $20 today, so it would take an income of about $1,500 a week to live on the same scale today.
Q: Please tell me something about the mantel clock my parents received as a wedding gift in 1927. It has a porcelain case and the back is marked “Manufactured by Ansonia Clock Co., New York, United States of America.”
A The Ansonia Clock Co. was founded in Connecticut in 1850, but any Ansonia clock marked with a New York location dates from between 1880 and 1929, the year Ansonia closed. Ansonia bought clock cases from a Bonn, Germany, earthenware and porcelain factory that used the trade name “Royal Bonn.” Your clock was probably new when your parents received it. If it’s in perfect condition, it could sell for several hundred dollars.