Halloween candy containers sweet ’n’ scary collectibles

NEW YORK – When it comes to Halloween decorations, particularly candy containers, pumpkins and jack-o’-lanterns are fairly common. Harder to find are witches, black cats, veggie people and devils. From its roots in the early Celtic holiday of Samhain, when people would slip on costumes to hide from evil spirits, Halloween has evolved into a fun holiday for all ages, marked by parties, trick-or-treating and elaborate decorating. Early and colorful candy containers in all manner of Halloween imagery are highly sought after by holiday collectors.

This vegetable man candy container/lantern, 9½ inches tall, sold for $9,000 at Morphy Auctions in September 2015. Photo courtesy of Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Early examples were made of composition, molded cardboard with a composition wash and litho over cardboard and these are the ones most collectors are drawn to, explains Rob LaPlace of Vintage Halloween Collector. He cites German-made examples in particular “that are all original and complete with exceptional detailing, surface molding, have a compelling character and captivating expression.”

Interestingly, many of the most desirable early examples were not made in America but in Germany for export to the United States as the country was trying to rebuild its economy after World War I. “Several American discount-merchandising magnates like Frank W. Woolworth and Sebastian S. Kresge more strongly encouraged German artisans at this time to use their creative expertise to craft unique and wondrous items for export to the vast and growing American holiday market,” writes Mark B. Ledenbach on his website, Halloween Collector. A collector of Halloween antiques since 1988, he explains that these German-made items were usually made in small operations (either homes or shops) from a set design or a mold and decorated by hand.

This 13-inch-tall German-made pumpkin candy container was once packed with an abundance of candy and doubled as a roly-poly toy. It and the accompanying 2¼-inch roly-poly brought $4,500 in September 2010 at Morphy Auctions. Photo courtesy of Dan Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Some candy containers were made in Japan, mostly of cardboard, crepe paper and composition, but usually not made to the same standards of quality as the German-made pieces. Today’s secondhand and auction markets will usually bear that out with antique German candy containers bringing the higher prices. Also collectible are hard-plastic American-made candy containers from firms like Rosbro as well as paper ones by Beistle and Dennison.

If a diamond is judged by four C’s (cut, color, clarity and carat) then perhaps it can be said that candy containers can be gauged by their own set of the four C’s: condition, color, composition or cardboard.

This rare Halloween lantern paper litho candy container, marked Germany, 3½in tall, realized $2,250 in April 2018 at Bertoia Auctions. Photo courtesy of Bertoia Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

“Condition is the most important factor when collecting vintage Halloween candy containers,” said Cynthia J. Breen Vogel of Marcin Antiques in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. “The earliest ones are most desirable and date from the very early 20th century and up to what many consider to be the golden age of Halloween—the 1920s and 1930s,” she said. “The most sought-after pieces were made in Germany from composition, formed-and-stapled cardboard, or both. Some candy containers were made as lanterns as well, and some were also made as ‘nodders’ with tiny springs or with heads balanced on a stem. One of the most desirable sets of candy containers is referred to by collectors as ‘The Trio’ and consists of a witch, a devil, and a black cat.”

A German jack-o’-lantern candlestick form candy container 4¼in tall, went out at $2,250 at Bertoia Auctions in November 2013. Photo courtesy of Bertoia Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

So-called “veggie people” candy containers are also quite collectible, Breen noted, and these pay homage to the earliest imagery of the holiday by honoring the fall harvest. These candy containers frequently have a jack-o’-lantern head that sometimes does double duty as a candle lantern, along with parsnip arms, zucchini legs and potato feet. To get at the candy, one need only remove the head.

Given the ease with which modern reproductions can be created, LaPlace says, “One of the true tests of age is simply to smell it. Condition is a consideration, but flaking paint or hairline cracks further ages the piece.”

Among American-made candy containers is this 3in-tall composition pumpkin head figure (shown in center of photo) by the Beistle Co., which earned $1,300 at Ron Rhoads Auctioneers in September 2015. Photo courtesy of Ron Rhoads Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

Telling the old from the new can be challenging as there are those who fake vintage items down the last detail as well as people making brand new “fantasy creations” to look vintage even though such a piece never existed then. “Although most reproductions are mass produced overseas, they are being made by hand in much the same manner as vintage originals,” according to Real or Repro. New pieces from China, India and the Philippines have enough random irregularities and flaws, which collectors have previously used to authentic genuine pieces, that new collectors need to be wary, the website cautions.

This holiday collectibles market genre has enough variety to support both emerging and veteran collectors. Depending on condition and rarity, prices can range from a few hundred dollars to nearly $10,000. Some recent sales include this rare horseshoe shaped pumpkin that sold on eBay for $888 in October 2019 to a policeman riding a pumpkin, 4 inches tall, which made $3,750 in September 2019 at Dan Morphy Auctions. Whether you collect candy containers that are gourd-form, figural, or seek out unusual examples in the form of small purses, hat boxes or skulls, there is something for every taste.