Bewitching Collectibles: Magical beauties embody the spirit of Halloween

By Pamela E. Apkarian-Russell
The Halloween Queen®

The detail and art Nouveau influence make John Winsch postcards magical and bewitching. Collectors pay more than $100 for just one of these cards in excellent condition. Shown here: The Halloween Cauldron by Samuel Schmucker.

Have you ever wondered which witch was which? There are so many kinds to consider: Small ones, large one, old ones, young ones, beautiful ones and ugly old hags, as well as green-skinned ones and even some in rags. There are Easter witches and Salem witches (which were not witches at all), there are witches on broomsticks and ones that have never learned the art of flying.

Collectors can have a field day incorporating these images into the magic of a witchy Halloween display.

So many marvelous witches have added to the folklore of the species and have integrated themselves into the rest of the year. Movie witches are good and bad, even as they fly out of books such as “Harry Potter” or “The Wizard of Oz.”

The witch is an intriguing creature and you’ll want to include her in your everyday life even if she is just a kitchen witch from Sweden making sure your dinner is oh so tasty.

This article originally appeared in Antique Trader magazine

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Witches appear in art and literature and can be represented as beautiful beyond all conception, and then she could be homely and downtrodden. Mother Goose, the old woman in the shoe, the witch who cleans the cobwebs from the sky are all witches who have been “cleaned up” and shown in their hard-working hag form.

Since the marvelous Margaret Hamilton in “The Wizard of Oz,” one can be overwhelmed with boring green-skinned imitations of the movie figure. Perhaps it is time for graphic artists, and those who dictate the mass-produced commercial items, to take a look at the vibrant and innovative witch images depicted by the folk and folksy artists who have created a wealth of wonderful witches that are coveted by collectors.

The Witch Behind the Moon sheet music is a brutal image of a vampirish witch. It is an anti-woman and anti-black image which is indicative of its time. Such images rarely show up in Halloween imagery.

Green-skinned witches have had their day and it is the sexy witches and the interesting hag figures that catch the eye of most collectors. The exciting thing is that there are so many great folk art artists at work today who make character faces that are beguiling and interesting that they don’t have to cover up mediocre design with green paint.

Certainly, contemporary pâpier-maché artist Jack Roads doesn’t need to, nor does contemporary folk artist Bonnie White.

The exciting thing about Halloween images of witches is they can be more inclusive in style and are more plentiful. From paintings to face jugs, candy containers and sheet music, they depict the witch from her goddess persona to her hag image as well as that of all the little costumed figures who disguise themselves as her.

For those who love postcards, the Halloween cards offer a wonderful array of images by some of the extraordinary artists who worked from 1900-1920s – the golden age of postcards. Most cards were not signed but some artists had sufficient clout to make sure the publisher accredited them; Clappsaddle, Brundage and Wall were some of the few artists who were regularly credited.

Publishers such a Whitney and Tuck produced some outstanding images, but most collectors will agree that Winsch Publishing was the premier publisher whose prize artist, Samuel Schmucker, reigns supreme. These bewitchingly beautiful women arrayed in costumed finery a la haute couture were elegant and fanciful and had magic to allure after all these years.

The fact they are surrounded with pumpkin-headed minions or devilishly cute goblins and gossamer-winged fairies in impishly fanciful scenarios just adds to the power these witches have over us. Winch postcards are perhaps the highest priced of all the Halloween postcards and can bring prices as high as hundreds of dollars per card.

John Winsh was the publisher of this incredible embossed 1911 postcard by artist Samuel Schmucker. They are the most desirable of all the 3,000-plus pre-1920 postcards that were produced. A card like this sold online recently for $240.

Early games have wonderful graphics on them. The boxes and game boards can be framed, as they are vibrant and colorful. Depending on the age and graphics, the prices will vary drastically. Often, witches and gypsy fortunetellers become integrated and anyone seeing the future in any manner becomes a witch.

This is irritating for both the Romany people known as Gypsies and real witches (i.e. Wiccans) who cannot possibly compete with the fantasy and fiction, as well as misinformation and disinformation about them. (The word Wicca means “craft of the wise.”)

Early images of witches from the burning years show them being tortured and as deformed malignant creatures.

One of the most interesting of the real-life witch figures is from Knaresboro, near York, in the U.K. Mother Shipton (also known as Ursula Southeil) was supposed to be deformed or perhaps, hunchbacked; no one is quite sure. What is widely agreed upon is she was ugly and born in a cave. She did marry a carpenter in one of the nearby towns during the burning years. It was said she bewitched her husband into marrying her using witchcraft, though there isn’t any record of him protesting.

Her public prophecies have been published many times and all have come true. Popular souvenir collectibles that show Mother Shipton include bottle openers, soap, fairings, postcards, china figurines and needle packets. Published accounts of her prophesies are also popular – yet affordable; an 1854 woodcut-illustrated hardcover edition, “Mother Shipton’s Prophecies” (4 1/4 inches by 6 3/8 inches, published by Abel Heywood & Son) sold for just $30 in a recent online sale.

Wall decorations by companies like Dennison and Biestle are always in demand, usually selling for $10 to $40 in online sales. Outstanding examples earn considerably more; recently, a Dennison example of a black cat and witch sitting together, singing in front of the moon (measuring 15 3/4 inches by 12 1/4 inches) brought more than $200 in an online auction. “Vintage style” reproductions of popular Dennison decorations are selling online as well.

This early composition papier mache pumpkin head witch holding a broom is stamped Germany and very detailed. It is a scarce example in excellent condition that measures 6 1/2 inches high and sold for $350 at Bertoia Auctions Sept. 23, 2012. Photo courtesy Bertoia Auctions.

Ephemera such as napkins, paper plates and crepe paper shouldn’t be overlooked; Dennison crepe paper witch napkins, sold in sets of four, are bringing $10 to $20.

Pâpier-maché candy containers and figures, especially early German ones, demand hefty prices. Rarity, composition heads, fine details and excellent condition all contribute to high prices.

October issues of magazines have shown the witch depicted by great illustrators such as Varga, Fern Bissell Peat, Johnny Gruel, Grace Drayton and Charles Addams. For the ultimate collector, original illustration art depicting witches’ antics are highly prized. An original pulp magazine illustration titled “Confronting the Witch” sold for a remarkable $13,750 in a Beverly Hills illustration art sale.

Comic books featuring not only Wendy Witch of Casper fame, but Bugs Bunny, Donald Duck (and, of course, his rambunctious nephews), and Harvey Comics’ “Witches Tales” series are perennial favorites. CGC-graded examples can fetch hundreds of dollars, as can Golden Age (late 1930s to early 1950s) ungraded comics in excellent condition. For example, a “Bugs Bunny Trick ‘N’ Treat Halloween Fun #3” (1955) from Dell Giant Comics sold for $215 in an August 2012 sale. This charming comic book shows happy-go-lucky Bugs slicing his carrot into a cauldron while a befuddled witch stands by.

Our modern-day witch is everywhere and often quite small and carrying a goodie bag which they hope you will fill full of sweets or they may carry a Unicef box for you to donate in for the under privileged children of the world. If one collected every different witch costume that has been produced over the years, the closet could not exist that could hold them all. Boxed costumes and early crepe paper and printed cloth costumes bring the most money, but they need to be in really good condition. Expect to pay $10 to $30 for average examples.

“Confronting the Witch,” a pulp magazine interior story illustration by Edd Cartier (American, b. 1914) earned $13,750 at Heritage Auction Galleries’ March 1, 2012, Illustration Art Signature Auction in Beverly Hills.

Collecting witches is exciting whether in china form by companies like Doulton or made of plaster and pâpier-maché in prewar Germany.

Witches come in every shape, form, and media and the prices vary accordingly. You just need to know which witch is which, and which witch beguiles you the most. Treasure her as she will bring magic into your life. Have a happy bewitching Halloween!

Castle Halloween Museum in West Virginia has thousands of witch figures on display all year long, spanning more than 250 years.

Pamela E. Apkarian-Russell is known as (TM) The Halloween Queen. She runs the Castle Halloween Museum at 1595 Boggs Run Rd., Benwood, (Wheeling) WV 26031-1050,

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