Friday, September 28, 2012

The Skinny -- Trick or Treat!

 According to the California Milk Processors Board, an average Jack-O-Lantern bucket carries about 250 pieces of candy, which adds up to about 9,000 calories and three pounds of sugar.

Oh, how I miss childhood sometimes!

I was raised in a house where Halloween was the pinnacle of the year, as far as holidays were concerned.  In my mom's heyday, she gave away over 500 hand-packed, hand-tied goody bags to trick-or-treaters in just a few hours.  I grew up in a tiny town, so that was pretty much every kid within a 10 mile radius.  And she did it standing beside a cauldron with dry ice, full green face makeup (with applied nose and chin), corn shocks, hay bales, the scary music soundtrack...You name it, she had it.  Even now, my mom would be dressed as a witch 24/7 if she could get away with it.

From The Heirloom Shop on Etsy
But what are the origins of our idea of Trick Or Treating?  In an excerpt from David J. Skal's book, Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween, he says, "Doris Hudson Moss, writing for American Home in 1939, told of her success, begun several years earlier, of hosting a Halloween open house for neighborhood children...The American Home article is significant because it is apparently the first time the expression "trick or treat" is used in a mass-circulation periodical in the United States...It is probably that trick-or-treating had its immediate origins in the myriad of organized celebrations mounted by schools and civic groups across the country specifically to curb vandalism."

As the years passed, and the trick-or-treaters dwindled near where she now lives, my mom turned to collecting vintage Halloween goodies as a way to show her love for the holiday. She has a pretty big collection, but the one elusive thing is a papier-mache Jack O' Lantern.  We've just never found the right one -- for the right price.

Most of the earlier Halloween items (from the 1920s through the 1930s), were geared towards adults -- creepier faces, darker themes, and adult figures in the design.  But it changed with the years.  According to Jason Walcott's Vintage Halloween website (, "...a marked shift can be noticed as you look at Halloween items from the 1920s through the 1940s—the imagery gradually gets less threatening and more cute as manufacturers were marketing their items more for families/kids than adults."

And although these vintage pumpkins look like the modern day candy containers carried by millions of kids, they really started out as real lanterns.  Despite being made from paper, they were lit by candlelight, so that the light shone through their thin paper backed eyes, nose, and mouth.

There are two main types of vintage paper pumpkin lanterns.  German lanterns were made mainly from 1920 to 1935, and have a smoother, cardboard finish.  They were molded in halves and then joined by sewing or stapling.  The lanterns were hand painted, and then a tissue paper face was inserted inside.  Through the late 1930s and 40s, the second type was more popular, and is known as the American Pulp Lantern.  Much like egg carton material, paper pulp was pressed into a pumpkin mold and left to dry.  Then, like the German lanterns, they were painted and given a paper face insert.  The "Choir Boy" style face became popular through the 1950s.  These tend to be very non-scary and cute -- named "Choir Boy" for their open mouths.  They look like they are singing.

According to Jason Walcott's Halloween site, "A good way to differentiate the original pieces from the reproductions is to check the bottom. Original lanterns will have one or more indented rings. Repros will have flat bottoms. Also on the repros, the colors are duller. These Jack O' Lanterns range in size from 4.5 to 8.5 inches in height."

These simple paper lanterns were the precursor to what every kid carries with them on Halloween night -- the classic, plastic Jack O' Lantern candy container!

From In With the Old on Etsy

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for featuring my paper pulp pumpkin! I've learned a lot more about them and their origins. Your blog was so interesting to read!