Pam’s Pictorama Post: We’re speeding down October’s path on a less than 24 hour countdown to another Halloween. It is a truly dark and stormy morning as I write this and I do hope it clears sufficiently for the activities of tomorrow for the local little ones – the holiday seems challenged enough in its Covid incarnation this year. Here at Pictorama I am sharing a few additional howlin’ Halloween bits I collected over the last few months in my search for all things early 20th century black cat related. Today’s items are from my go-to girl for Halloween items (and some other interesting bits) who hails from the Midwest, @missmollystlantiques, aka Molly Simms.
I have written recently about how Miss Molly has helped me achieve some of my early Halloween collecting goals. (One of those posts can be found here.) These little items today are some icing on the collecting cake and a reminder that one of the nice things about holiday decorations is that they were used and often lovingly stored each year, making for a great survival rate.
I can only say I wish the Dennison’s Black Cat streamer was sufficiently sturdy to put up in the apartment. They are very jolly and I can imagine them decorating the space above our bookcases nicely. (Perhaps I could press them in plexi? I wonder if they would survive the light? It is so fragile!)
This black cat banner immediately stirs an image of a much earlier Halloween party, say 1916, dripping with such decorations – table groaning with paper mache jack-o-lanterns and nut cups. I was collecting the Dennison books years ago, as below (that early 2015 post can be found here). Some wonderful copies were being put out for awhile – for you fellow collectors who may have missed them, poke around. The image that they present of the well appointed Halloween party from the teens has stayed with me – one chock-a-block and dripping with crepe paper creations. Those folks at Dennison’s knew how to sell crepe paper! I cannot help but feel there is a better steward of this particular fragile paper bit of history. Nevertheless, I will do my best until the next person comes along.
Less fragile and easier to revel in, is this cardboard Halloween Quiz overseen by a grinning bow-tied black cat and this serious owl. There is a 1940 copyright to H. E. Luhrs and a quick internet search shows that the Luhrs name was a significant one in ’40’s and ’50’s Halloween decorations and die-cuts. They were the maker of what I think of as the classic skeleton decoration (the one I would want if I wanted a skeleton) and evidently the “spinning” (it doesn’t really spin and I somehow doubt it ever did) fortune teller which they employed with several designs. While I could not find a proper history of the company, at a glance I would say they were the poor man’s version of Beistle, a somewhat more substantial maker of Halloween ephemera.
Questions run down one side of my version of the Quiz with answers on the right. Two spins would give you both a question and an answer – the answer might require that you perform the required stunt to achieve it. Questions range from Am I studious? to Do I like old people? and answers are along the lines of If you can twirl a pencil like a baton without dropping it the answer is no.
I end with this small black cat jack-o-lantern style container which probably held treats on a very well appointed Halloween table. It survives in virtually pristine condition. No tricks, only treats here at Pictorama today. Have a Happy Black Cat Halloween!
Pam’s Pictorama Post: My memory of exactly where I scored this book has dimmed. It may have been in a used bookstore in Cananda, but I am just not sure. I do know that the moment I picked it up I knew it was splendid and I wanted it. If the penciled price on the inside is what I paid, it cost me $15. The book evidently originally belonged to Harry Dippold who wrote his name in beautiful script in pencil on the inner cover. The copyright, the single printing listed, is 1923. It was written, illustrated and photographed by Fred Hacker and Prescott W. Eames. How to Put on an Amateur Circus is exactly what the title promises – a 112 page step-by-step and blow-by-blow description of everything from how to build costumes, construct tents, make tickets, apply clown make-up, keep the books and even what the Ringmaster should say to the audience! They have left nothing up to chance, a veritable bible of starting your very own circus.
It did not surprise me to discover that the company responsible for this book is Dennison’s – the crepe paper and party decoration company, famed for their wonderful over-the-top Halloween Bogie books. (For a full discourse on Dennison’s you might try my post by the same name found here – Dennison’s.) While these folks had a vested financial interest in encouraging the use of crepe paper, the extraordinary imagination that went into their marketing books is stunning.
For me, the highlight of this book are the photos of and instructions for executing a wide-variety of imaginative animal costumes. (I sometimes wonder if all of Julie Taymor’s inspiration for her puppet costumes came from books like this.) As you can see from the photos below, photographs of the finished product were given, as were diagrams for making the costumes and even ones for how to operate them. The instructions are detailed, if arduous and requiring plenty of elbow grease – operating them couldn’t have been easy either. A google search turns up period references to this and other Dennison volumes like it – I found comments on the difficulty of executing the costumes, but it wasn’t uncommon for them to be used and identified as such in all sorts of amateur and semi-amateur productions.
Tantalizing, at the back of the book, are other Dennison books you could buy. These include the following titles: How to Chalk Talk, (must have been popular because there is also Chalk Talk Stunts), Impromptu Magic, with Patter, The High School Stunt Show and Carnival, Here’s for a Good Time (…a large and diversified collection of parties for the advanced teen ages and adults, chronologically arranged to cover every month of the year), and finally, Burlesque Debates – despite the title these were not racy, but comical. I have never been able to find another volume in the series for sale, but I treasure mine and occasionally dream of starting my own, amateur circus. Come on guys, it’s summer – let’s put on a show!
Pam’s Pictorama Post: I guess given my predilection for black cats, it isn’t surprising that Halloween of days gone by greatly entertains me, and therefore so does dressing up, and for a time I was buying black cat novelty and Halloween books and items. In addition to this original one shown above, I purchased a number of lovely reproductions of the Dennison’s Bogie Books – color xerox copies of the catalogues Dennison’s holiday paper product company put out annually to encourage costume making and elaborate party decorations – made of their crepe paper, of course, and eventually morphing into wrapping paper and decorations.
Although they had booklets (and decorative paper) dedicated to various holidays, of course Halloween was the zenith of the dress up holidays. In addition to the decorations, they detail costumes that could be put together and even party games that could be played. It appears that they were the first on the market with holiday crepe paper – and certainly the first to have such comprehensive marketing.
Dennison’s was around for just over a century – 1897-1998 and was housed in Framingham, MA. They were a significant employer for the area and an important part of civic life there, right up until it was sold in the late 1990’s and moved to California. In addition to being a community leader, contributing to hospital drives and local causes, but also was known for not laying off any staff during the Depression. Some of this information, as well as information about how the Dennison’s archive was saved by a former employee, can be found here in Framingham Unearths Decades of Dennison Memories.
Below are some choice pages from my run of reproduction books, ’14-’17.
I want that Cat Hat! Which reminds me of a pretty great photo of Kim below: