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Toys that shuffle, tap or dance a jig

A suspended clockwork clown jig doll achieved $2,300 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2021 at The RSL Auction Co. Image courtesy of The RSL Auction Co. and LiveAuctioneers

NEW YORK — Toys or dolls that are sometimes known as “jiggers” have free-swinging limbs that render the appearance of shuffling or dancing. Starting with a simple figure on a wooden or tin-plate platform, these antique toys evolved into more complex playthings that employed clockwork or wind-up mechanisms.

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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.

Online auction Oct. 30 marks Halloween with scary curiosities

A macabre collection that will scare bidders silly with the frightful delights is offered in an online auction being conducted by Jasper52 on Wednesday, Oct. 30. Items range from a sideshow gaff to fearsome antique medical devices. Bid absentee or live online exclusively through LiveAuctioneers.

An antique child-size casket that features a folk art acrylic painting in an American nautical theme, signed by Edwin Nagel (American b. 1925) and dated 1993. Estimate: $6,800-$8,000. Jasper52 image

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Jasper52 to host ‘Spooktacular’ auction on Halloween, Oct. 31

A macabre collection that will scare bidders silly with the frightful delights is offered in an online auction being conducted by Jasper52. Items range from Gothic horror to Universal Pictures movie monsters. A Spooktacular Auction: Horrors & Nightmares will be conducted on Halloween, Wednesday, Oct. 31, starting at 9 p.m. Eastern time.

An antique child-size casket that features a folk art acrylic painting in an American nautical theme signed by Edwin Nagel (b. 1925) and dated 1993. Estimate: $6,500-$8,000. Jasper52 image

View the auction.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Illustrator Ellen Clapsaddle: queen of Halloween postcards

Halloween is one of the oldest holidays celebrated in the Western world. It came about in ancient times when harvesttime marked the end of the year on the Celtic calendar. A festival honoring Samhain, the Celtic lord of death, began the evening of October 31.

The change of seasons ushered in pagan rituals. To the ancients, it was a time when the boundary of our world and the spirit world was more open. They believed the spirits could more easily revisit our world during this brief period.

During the festival of Samhain, neighbors provided food and drink for “wandering spirits,” represented by those wearing a variety of costumes (guises). Bonfires provided warmth and cleansed the soul, while candles in carved-out gourds or in lanterns issued light to help keep the otherworld at bay.

International Art Publishing Co. Series 1393 Halloween greeting postcards illustrated by Ellen Clapsaddle, circa 1908, that sold for $275 in 2015. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers Archives and Jeffrey S. Evans and Associates

After the Romans conquered the Celts, an early Christian observance that incorporated the festivities of Samhein into a remembrance of their departed saints – known as Hallows – became the more modern version of the celebration. Thus, All Hallows Eve, shortened to Hallowe’en, marks the day before All Saints Day, which takes place on November 1.

All of these rituals were amalgamated over time with the immigration of the Irish and Scots to America in the late 19th and early 20th century. The observance of Halloween itself was reserved mostly for adult parties, although children still dressed in costumes such as ghosts (bogeys) and more scary creatures such as witches. In the early 1900s, family and friends would commemorate the holiday by sending best wishes through a picture postcard.

Although the plain postal card was first printed and mailed before or during the 1870s in the United States, the heyday of colorfully illustrated postcards lasted from about 1900 to 1920. By the time greeting postcards became popular, Halloween was already firmly established in the American culture.

The most prolific and most recognized postcard illustrator of this period was Ellen H. Clapsaddle (1865-1934). Artistically inclined since childhood, Clapsaddle left her upstate New York home in 1884 to attend the renowned Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. After graduation, she returned to her hometown, where she created landscapes and painted family portraits. She also created commercial advertising items such as calendars and greeting cards.

Ellen Clapsaddle signed embossed Halloween postcard printed in Germany and mailed in 1913. It sold for $60 in August 2017. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers and Matthew Bullock Auctioneers

It was through the postcard, though, that Clapsaddle’s commercial illustrations became best sellers, particularly those surrounding holidays such as Halloween. Far from showing the dark aspects of the holiday, Clapsaddle’s postcard illustrations focused more on the innocence of folklore as seen through the eyes of children and young adults.

It is estimated that Clapsaddle produced more than 3,000 different illustrations for the International Art Publishing Co., in New York City, starting in 1895. Funded by her employer, she spent several years in Germany, the center of the high-end publishing world, where she worked with engravers and printers in the world’s best printing plants. Clapsaddle is said to have established Wolf Publishing, backed by the Wolf Brothers—a full subsidiary of the International Art Publishing Co. 

Two Ellen Clapsaddle Halloween postcards produced by Wolf Publishing. Estimated at $75-$125, the pair sold for $225. Image courtesy of Live Auctioneers and Jackson’s Auction

The postcard-publishing boom ended about 1914 when World War I interrupted production in Germany. Many German factories were destroyed, and an untold number of Clapsaddle’s original artworks may have been lost along with her investments in those firms.

Today, more than 100 years after their creation, postcard illustrations by Ellen Clapsaddle are still popular and very collectible, but it is her charming portrayals of children as Halloween ghosts, witches and jack-o’-lanterns that resonate the most with collectors. The survival rate of these ephemeral artworks is a testament to her talent and broad appeal. Most of her postcards are available within the $10 to $50 range.

Apart from the colorful and embossed postcards, there are postcards known as mechanicals, examples that have a moving part within the illustration. They are highly sought after by collectors.

A complete set of Ellen Clapsaddle illustrated postcard Series 1236, circa 1913. These are examples of mechanical postcards in that the child’s hand moves the pumpkin to cover the face. The set sold for $2,400 in 2007. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers Archive and Lyn Knight Auction

Most postcards illustrated by Clapsaddle are signed beneath the illustration. There are some designs that are unsigned, but even so, Clapsaddle’s distinctive depictions of the joy, innocence and fun of Halloween are unmistakable.