Past or present, decorating with grinning jack-o'-lanterns, spooky black cats, and flying witches is the best part of Halloween.
In the final months of 2010, antique toy collectors will be bidding on a dazzling selection of holiday offerings. The list includes something for everyone: vintage Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas decorations, as well as cast-iron banks, old cars of every description, and, of course, regiments of toy soldiers.
Philadelphia is at the center of the toy-collecting world. Morphy Auctions in Denver, Pa., near Lancaster, stirred up the spirits of the season when it had excellent results with Halloween material in an 887-lot Holiday Sale on Sept. 11.
Old Halloween decorations have increased in value because so few survive in good condition. Candy containers and colorful cutouts made of fragile materials often were discarded after each holiday.
Spooky lanterns designed to hold a candle were often made of flammable papier-mache or pressed cardboard. No surprise, a near-mint-condition devil's-head lantern from Germany brought $4,600 at the Morphy sale. Another unusual lantern in the shape of a human foot with a happy face on the sole sold for a hefty $10,350.
The top-selling item in the auction was a one-of-a-kind Halloween harvest novelty, also made in Germany. Probably a store display, the 17½-inch "veggie man" had a clockwork mechanism that shifted his eyes from side to side. The final price: $19,550.
Another standout lot was a very rare set of nodding figures with cat, devil, witch, and pumpkin heads, which sold for $10,350. "It's difficult to find a complete set of six," Dan Morphy said.
"They're made of celluloid, so they're fragile. This particular set was old store stock and had never been used. Remarkably, it was still in its original box with original paper label."
As this was an official "holiday" sale, the offerings included desirable Christmas Santa figures, candy containers, and ornaments. A 28-inch-tall Santa with clockwork nodding head and rabbit-fur beard was purchased for $10,350.
A Santa with sleigh and four reindeer was offered for purchase as a store display in the Schoenhut catalog for 1914. The rare group, featured in Schoenhut Dolls: A Collector's Encyclopedia by Carol Corson, sold for $5,750.
"The turnout for this sale definitely proved that Halloween and Christmas antiques are popular year-round collectibles," Morphy said. "We had more than 250 unique buyers, with approximately 100 of them bidding in the room and another 150 on the phones at various times during the session."
He said the sale also drew about 400 Internet bidders.
The printed catalog, an important reference for collectors, was a complete sellout. The sale lots with final prices can be viewed online at www.morphyauctions.com.
Next on the schedule is the "Toys for the Mantel Sale" Nov. 12 to 14 at Bertoia Auctions in Vineland, N.J., 35 miles south of Philadelphia. A complete catalog illustrating the 2,000-plus items is available online at www.bertoiaauctions.com.
Along with banks, doorstops, and cast-iron cars, the auction will present vintage Halloween items from the collection of Claire Lavin. Lavin wrote Timeless Halloween Collectibles, 1920-1949, which focused on paper decorations manufactured by the Beistle Co. of Pittsburgh.
"It's one of the better Halloween collections that I've seen, really very eclectic," Rich Bertoia says. "There are early Halloween masks, jack-o'-lanterns, very early embossed cardboard displays, assorted hand-painted papier-mache candy containers.
"From the 1950s, there are plastic Halloween toys that were filled with candy - a witch, a pumpkin, a black cat. There are large papier-mache masks, one in the shape of a skull, one in the shape of a devil. There are even some crepe paper table covers with holiday themes - everything Halloween to deck the house."
The sale also features a selection of Christmas antiques, including a large Santa Claus trade stimulator with clockwork movement, which was made in Germany (estimate $4,000 to $5,000).
"My favorite thing would be a Father Christmas, made out of a composition material and hand-painted, with beautifully molded detail," Bertoia added.
On Nov. 19 and 20, Noel Barrett Vintage Toys & Auctions will offer the contents of the Old Salem Toy Museum and the Thomas A. Gray Collection at the Eagle Fire Hall in New Hope. View lots from the sale at www.noelbarrett.com.
Holiday offerings will include Halloween lanterns, a terrific pumpkin man nutcracker, and a well-dressed clockwork turkey. Barrett said the sale offers a tall chalkware Santa with "one of the greatest painted faces I've ever seen."