Economy may boost vintage Halloween collectibles


A sluggish economy and rolling unemployment have failed to spook avid collectors of nostalgic Halloween memorabilia as 16.4 percent of Americans prepare to craft their own costumes this season.

Total Halloween spending this year is expected to hit $4.75 billion, down from $5.77 billion last year, according to the National Retail Federation.

But the state of the economy during this trick or treat holiday means big business for antique dealers who report increased purchases of older Victorian-style Halloween costumes and patterns.

“I think the economy is forcing people to be more creative on their fright nights,’’ said Susan Finger, a freelance graphic designer from Pittsburgh. “I have been visiting area antique shops and piecing together Halloween costumes for my two small twin daughters.’’ Her children will hit the Halloween streets as storybook characters from Walt Disney’s Snow White.

Susan Erickson, who specializes in Halloween collectibles, reports increased interest in all things Halloween. “My children got married on Halloween, and I continue to help make costumes for my grandchildren,’’ said Erickson, who operates an antique booth in a large co-operative near Westfield, Mass.

“I think people are beginning to revisit childhood memories of Halloween parties, parades, tons of candy and lots of neighborhood goodwill,’’ said Erickson, who has been collecting Halloween memorabilia for more than 40 years. She has a broad swath of antique pumpkins, post cards, black cat lanterns, noisemakers and candy containers. Halloween collectibles can range in value from a $250 papier-mâché pumpkin to a $4 brown trick or treat bag.

Kathy Bowen, a retired nanny from Armada, Mich., said Halloween continues to be a popular holiday because it ushers in a new season of colorful leaves and the expectation of a bountiful harvest for those living in rural farm communities.

“I always loved Halloween because it was a fun time for the entire family and a way to meet neighbors and be involved in community activities like bobbing for apples, carving pumpkins and costume parades,’’ said Bowen.

Because nostalgia is a big part of the Halloween success story, David Welch reports that participants are getting much older. “For the past 20 years or so, Halloween has really been an adult holiday,’’ said Welch, an antique collector from Murphysboro, Ill.

And the latest retail figures support his observations. This season, adult revelers will spend an average of $53 per person on cards and candy for Halloween festivities compared with only $25 by teens aged 13 to 19. And those haunted houses that pop up everywhere this time of year are expected to double in popularity as more consumers stay closer to home this season to avoid higher gasoline bills.

Still, Pamela Apkarian-Russell, dubbed the Halloween Queen, reports record visits to her Castle Halloween Museum near Wheeling, W.Va.

“Today, Halloween is like Motherhood and Apple Pie,” said Russell, who has 5,000 books on Halloween and the paranormal.

Her 35,000-piece Halloween museum is chocked full of memorabilia designed to pique the interest of even the most tentative novice. Her more than 3,000-square foot museum sports everything from rare Halloween jewelry to an Andy Warhol Dracula picture and several German Mettlach pottery pieces.

Each holiday has its own origins and background and owes its current face to a variety of legends, lore and customs. Although Halloween is strictly an American tradition and holiday, we do credit the Scottish for bringing it to the United States. The earliest symbols of Halloween appeared around the turn of the 20th century. During Victorian times, for example, Halloween parties became extremely popular in the United States. Decorations were seasonal products, such as pumpkins, cornstalks and vegetables.

“Today, Halloween collectibles are second in demand only to Christmas decorations,’’ said Raymond Greenfield of Sewickley, Pa. “I have been collecting Halloween noisemakers and masks for more than 50 years. When my grandchildren come to visit, I put on my $18 devil, rubber, red and black and white mask before we head out to the local Halloween parade,’’ said Greenfield, a retired advertising executive.

Then there is Sylvia Pantek of Brooklyn, N.Y., who dresses up like a witch and fills her $65 vintage cat-themed candy container with goodies and pays a visit to several area nursing homes to cheer up elderly residents.

“This is a holiday for everyone, and I do my best to spread a little frightful cheer to those less fortunate,’’ said Pantek, a part-time cook and sales clerk.

Chriss Swaney is a Pittsburgh-based freelance journalist for Reuters, The New York Times, Pittsburgh Engineer and Horse World, and an avid antique collector.

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