How many of you have a Halloween costume from your childhood? I am sure not many.

This is why the hunt for vintage Halloween costumes is a bit expensive, and some varieties tend to be scarce.

Customs and traditions

Halloween is a popular holiday in both the United States and Canada when children dress-up in costumes and go door-to-door trick-or-treating for candy or other treats.

Over the years, things have changed and children now often go to school or community parties featuring mock haunted houses, scary stories, treats and games. Many communities hold parades and other celebrations for Halloween. Last year, COVID-19 brought Halloween to a standstill.

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Halloween's roots go back some 2,000 years ago to an ancient Celtic pagan festival of costumes and superstitions. The festival was called Samhain (pronounced SOW ehn), which stands for “summer’s end” or “Hallowtide,” the night of the great fire festival. The festival marked the end of the harvest and the beginning of the dark winter season and was celebrated Oct. 31. In 835, Pope Gregory IV established a new holiday, All Saints’ Day, on Nov. 1. All Saints’ Day was also called “All Hallows” since Hallow means saint or one who is holy. The evening before “All Hallows” was known as “All Hallows Eve” and was soon changed to Halloween.

According to Celtic tradition, costumes were to blend in with ghosts during the eve when the veil between life and death was at its thinnest. These costumes were said to be worn to scare off the spirits.

It was once common for people to leave food out on a table as a treat for the spirits. These people went house to house “souling,” that is asking for small breads also known as “soul cakes” in exchange for prayers. In some areas of England, groups of masked and costumed adults would go door-to-door asking for food and drink in return for a performance or song. We now have candy and treats.

Halloween costumes

Vintage Halloween costumes were often handmade out of crepe paper. One early American business firm, The Dennison Paper Co. had “Bogie Books” (1912-1924) with lots of ideas and illustrations of costumes that could be made with crepe paper. Some of the first costumes were fairies, gypsies and burglars.

These vintage crepe costumes are the most popular collectible, although they were often discarded after Halloween. Finding a vintage crepe costume can be a real treat for a collector.

In the 1950s, factory-made costumes of popular characters from movies and television appeared. Store-bought costumes have become popular with both children and adults. Popular costume makers included Collegeville, Ben Cooper and Halco. These packaged costumes came in a box with an outfit and mask. Today’s collector’s value pricing ranges from $25 on up. Those now vintage Halloween costumes were often found at Woolworth’s and other five-and-dime stores.

Where to find vintage costumes

I have discovered that, like any other collectible these days, interest has grown in collecting vintage Halloween costumes and other Halloween collectibles on eBay with a Collegeville Gypsy Girl costume starting at $9.99 to an authentic vintage Ben Cooper Walt Disney Zorro at a buy-now price of $140.

Go to estate and garage sales, antique malls and shops such as Sarah's Uniques & Jim's “Man”tiques in St. Charles where Sarah Kieffer says “vintage Halloween costumes, especially the masks, seem to sell well this time of year. Most of us remember wearing the hat masks with the string behind it and a little costume over our clothes, some of these can be very collectible such as the Walt Disney characters to superheroes. The mask themselves are usually between $5 and $20, the costumes in the box about $30 to $40.”

Sandy Erdman is a Winona-based freelance writer and certified appraiser concentrating on vintage, antique and collectible items. Send comments and story suggestions to Sandy at life@postbulletin.com.