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Vintage Halloween Memorabilia Collection: Mark Ledenbach Interview

July 25, 2012 Update: Mark Ledenbach and his collection of Halloween memorabilia are featured as part of Lesley Pratt Bannatayne's book Halloween Nation: Behind the Scenes of America's Fright Night (Pelican, 2011).

As should be evident from my discussions on this blog, Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. Some of my hobbies relate to collecting various items connected to it, but I recently discovered a hobby that involves the collection of rare vintage Halloween memorabilia. An individual with great expertise in this area is Mark Ledenbach, author of Vintage Halloween Collectibles: An Identification and Price Guide, 2nd ed. (Kraus Publications, 2007), which can be purchased through his website.

Mark's collection and his expertise have been featured in a number of publications. He has graciously agreed to share some of his thoughts here and expose this interesting hobby to a new audience.

TheoFantastique: Mark, thanks for sharing with us about this unique and interesting hobby. Previously I was aware of people collecting more readily available Halloween memorabilia, and of course, various items connected with horror, sci-fi, and fantasy. In fact, my hobby is in this area. But I was not aware of collectors of vintage Halloween memorabilia. How did you get involved in this?

Mark Ledenbach: I was browsing in a local antiques store, Blue Eagle Antiques in Fair Oaks, CA back in the late 1980s. I got to talking with the proprietor who over the years has become a close friend. She asked if I'd assist her in hauling out some boxes containing her vintage Halloween items. When I did so, and opened them up, I was instantly enamored with the varied imagery and just genuine coolness of the items. I like to say that since then Autumn has kept my wallet empty.

TheoFantastique: It's a small world. I am originally form the Sacramento area in California and Fair Oaks was part of my stomping grounds. I'll have to go back and hit those antique stores! How do you define "vintage Halloween memorabilia?" What types of items are we talking about?

Mark Ledenbach: My operative definition is that the word "vintage" applies to items made prior to about 1955. (That safely keeps me from being considered vintage!) Vintage Halloween memorabilia refers to any and all items factory made to decorate homes for Halloween parties or simply for the season: table top decorations, games, lanterns, shades, composition candy containers, nodders and figurals, noisemakers (like horns, tambourines, ratchets, clangers, clickers, etc.), cardboard diecuts - both of the embossed and non-embossed varieties as well as all kinds of ephemera - place cards, post cards, tally cards, invitations, etc.

TheoFantastique: What is it about these items and this hobby that attracts you?

Mark Ledenbach: I like the imagery and solid construction of these items primarily. When I got involved in the hobby, I didn't immediately recognize just how truly rare many (most?) of these items are. Dealers and collectors bandy words like rare and scarce around with careless abandon. Vintage Halloween items by and large are truly rare because they were meant to be used and then tossed. Today relatively few vintage items exist in perfect condition. Since I started collecting prices have zoomed and there doesn't seem to be any consistent brake on the rise in values over time. Reproductions have become something of a problem in the candy container realm, but with the data sources available today, collectors who wish to be informed can be so.

TheoFantastique: You mention on your website that your interest in memorabilia relates to materials produced in an earlier period of Halloween's evolution when it was still largely a holiday for adult celebration. Now it still tends to focus on children, but there may be a trend toward a greater emphasis on adult participation through costuming, parties and the like. What is it about the memorabilia from the earlier time period that interests you compared with that produced today?

Mark Ledenbach: Many of today's items are more gory than scary. If you look at virtually any of the products made and sold by The Beistle Company prior to 1935 they are often both whimsical and unsettling. Real artists labored over these products and the keen artistry shows through. Today's products, by and large, are uninspired, pedestrian, cutesy and deathly dull.

TheoFantastique: On your website you mention the "imagery of vintage Halloween items through the 1940s" and speak of them as "compelling and memorable." Can you tell us why this time period is different from later expressions, and why you found this so interesting as a fan and collector?

Mark Ledenbach: Well, to continue the thought expressed above, items made prior to 1950 (speaking in generalities) were made with care and by artists who truly "got" the look their employer was wanting to present to the market. Of the more prominent paper manufacturers issuing decorations during this time period, collectors with experienced eyes can readily discern the differences between the products issued by Beistle, Dennison, Gibson and to a lesser extent, Whitney. I really get into the imagery, so tend to specialize in collecting items from these manufacturers and from this time period.

TheoFantastique: When you first began your collection there was little by way of reliable resources to guide the collector. How has this changed, and how have you made a contribution through your book?

Mark Ledenbach: This, thankfully, has radically changed. Not only does the web open up easy avenues for exploration and study, but the constant churn of Ebay affords many lessons on pricing, condition and overall availability of particular items. The first reference solely spotlighting vintage Halloween was published in 1995. My first edition was published in 2003. The greatly expanded and fully revised second edition was just released 2 months ago. I am a true researcher and take great pride in the large amounts of previously unknown data contained within the pages of my book. My website is data rich as well. I update it often with thoughts on particular items and sellers on Ebay. Today's collectors have it easy in terms of data availability. I don't envy them the prices to be paid for key items!

TheoFantastique: What kind of advice would you have for new collectors interested in exploring this hobby?

Mark Ledenbach: 1) Avail yourself of the research available to you. 2) Ask dealers and other collectors lots of questions. 3) Buy only what you like and always in the best condition possible.

TheoFantastique: Mark, thanks again for sharing with us. I hope this discussion introduces a different audience to this unique hobby, and to your contribution to it, as we near the Halloween season. It was my pleasure.

Mark Ledenbach: Thanks for inviting me to be a small part of your great website!!

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