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Collecting in the Heartland: Halloween paper

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 28, 2009 - They are wonderful little time capsules of Halloweens past, novelty catalogs filled with jack-o'-lantern party invitations, black cat table covers and wide-eyed, crepe owls that seem ready to fly up and off the page.

To holiday collectors, they are known simply as "the Bogie Books," or even "Bogies." The beautifully illustrated booklets distributed during the earliest part of the 20th century are some of the most widely recognized - and popular - of all Halloween paper ephemera.

Published by the Dennison Manufacturing Co. of Framingham, Mass., the catalogs draw collectors like witches to a broomstick. Those bitten by the Halloween bug (or bat, perhaps?) cherish them for their detailed graphics and no-nonsense descriptions of spooky stunts and games like "The Mermaid's Fortune" and "The Murderer's Dagger."

But while Bogies are among the most beloved of vintage paper items from the October holiday, they represent just a small portion of the paper available to the serious accumulator of all things Halloween.

Consider: paper hats, vintage paper costumes, paper horns, magazines, treat bags, postcards, store displays, flyers, advertisements, candy boxes - most with amazing illustrations of dancing skeletons, menacing devils, grinning pumpkins and just about anything else that might go bump in the night.

For the Baby Boomers among us, who would not wax nostalgic for a cardboard scarecrow like the one that once was taped to the inside of our bedroom window, or a menacing paper skull like the one that once hung from the ceiling of the house where we grew up?

Some collectors are drawn to old Halloween bridge tallies, others to the children's art of Fern Bisel Peat whose colorful Halloween drawings on the covers of Children's Play Mate Magazine in the 1930s and 1940s are considered classics. Still others prefer the real photos of costume-bedecked youngsters that grace the magazines of the 1950s and 1960s.

Among comic book collectors - at least those not exclusively attracted to superheroes like Batman, Spider-Man and Captain Marvel - there are some enchanting Halloween covers. Some of the best work appears on the covers of "Our Gang Comics," "Little Lulu" and funny animal books like "Bugs Bunny" and "Donald Duck."

So extensive is the number of paper collectibles that Claire M. Lavin put together a 160-page, profusely illustrated guidebook devoted exclusively to Halloween paper items manufactured between 1920 and 1949 by a single company - the Beistle Co., first of Pittsburgh and later Shippensburg, Pa.

Among the better-known pieces from Beistle are the "Zingo Fortune and Stunt Game" (where players spin a wheel to decide their fortunes) and the "Stunt Halloween Quiz," where questions and answers appear in tiny display windows. Lavin, in her book, describes being given access to the company's "vault" where it keeps examples of its manufactured items: "I can't put into words the absolute exhilaration I felt every time I walked through the doors of the Beistle Company."

The good news for collectors is that many paper and cardboard items, even those dating from the 1930s and 1940s, can be had for a few dollars. It is not uncommon, for instance, for a visitor to a Missouri or Illinois flea market to pick up a magazine from the 1920s or 1930s with a stunning Halloween-theme cover for two or three dollars.

The Dennison Bogie Books, of course, are among the exceptions. Nice examples of the earliest Bogie Books can bring $100, $200 and up. And particularly rare die cuts and games can fetch similar prices - scary stuff indeed for the bogeyman (or woman) on a limited budget.