Posted in Dolls, Holidays

by Ruby Lane

Images of Halloween and otherworldly creatures abound on antique and vintage postcards. These make a great backdrop for Halloween doll displays. 

The Halloween practices enjoyed by many today sprang from ancient and deep-rooted practices meant to honor the dead and protect the living. The Celtic festival of Samhain celebrated the end of the harvest and the start of the new year on November 1st. Tradition held that on the night of Oct 31st the veil between the land of the living and the land of the departed was lifted and the two could mingle. Bonfires were lit, animal costumes were donned and symbolic sacrifices of the harvest were made to appease the dead and bring favor for the coming year.

The fear of unseen forces at work in the world led to many of the Halloween observes of the past. A ca. 1555 German print depicting Witches being burned at the stake is a grim reminder of those practices. Happily, today our pop-culture fascination with witches and vampires is more in the realm of fantasy adventure. Mattel’s Victoria from the Twilight Saga is seen here, this doll was part of the company’s Pink Label® line.

With the influence of the Roman conquest new traditions were added to the festival. In the early 7th century the catholic church dedicated an observance known as All-Martyrs Day. Eventually this observance was moved to the beginning of November and became known as All-Saints Day. As with so many other Christian observances of the dark ages this celebration was built into the existing calendar of established pagan festivals to make them more readily accepted by the populace.

Could anyone be afraid of such a cuddly group of Witches and Vampires?! Included here are limited edition Halloween Raggedy Andy and Ann from Applause’s Dakin line from 2001, an Annalee Mobilitee company’s flying Witch mouse from the 1980s, a hand-made topsy-turvy witch from a UFDC Region 15 conference, and a vintage Witch rag doll by Kamar, Inc.
All Hallows Eve was also thought to be a night when it was possible to divine the future, particularly in regard to romance. This may have been the foundation of the many fortune telling dolls of the 19th and early 30th centuries. Sybil paperdoll photo courtesy of Morphy Auctions.

Over time All-Martyrs Day became known as All-Hallows, and All-Hallows Eve where the continued concept of the colliding of the seen world of the flesh and the unseen world of the spirit met. Bonfires and costumes continued to play a role, lighting candles to help ghosts find their way home combined with other medieval beliefs regarding black cats and witchcraft were incorporated into the cultural folklore.

By 10th century England poor people went begging house to house and were given Soul Cakes in return for their promises to pray for the dead. Moving forward to mid-19th century America an emphasis on making Halloween a lighter celebration focusing on fun and community took root. Halloween costume parties became highly popular. This trend followed on to modern times. The celebration of the secular holiday includes nods to past traditions with bobbing for apples, trick or treating, and wearing of costumes.

An illustration from an 1885 edition of St Nicholas magazine shows medieval peasants going a-souling. The song lyric show here was again popularized by 20th century folk singers Peter, Paul and Mary who recorded their version of this traditional song.
Vintage paper dolls in Halloween costume abound throughout the early to mid-20th century. Betty Bonnet’s Halloween Party was illustrated by Sheila Young for the Ladies Home Journal in October of 1917, Dolly Dingle’s Halloween was illustrated by Grace Drayton in 1916 for the Pictorial Review magazine, and Betsy McCall’s Halloween appeared in the McCall’s magazine of October 1953.
By the mid-20th century most Halloween celebrations focused on fun and imagination over outright fright. Dreams of trick or treat prizes ruled the day as children sought to fill their treat bags. What could be more profitable than sitting in a sincere pumpkin patch?! These 7″ vinyl dolls were made released in 1966 by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.
A pair of Tiny Betsy McCall dolls are ready for trick or treat. The cowgirl on the left was made by American Character 1957 to 1963, on the right is the reissue by Robert Tonner ca. 2001. 


For those of us who enjoy the hobby of collecting dolls and plush animals many fantastical and fun items have been created around a Halloween theme. Enjoy a little seasonal fun in the darkening time of year and add a few spooky treasures to your doll and plush displays.

Author – Linda Edward

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