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The Halloween Ephemera Factory: An Empire Built on Orange Crepe Paper

The giant Halloween ephemera factory in Framingham, Mass., for many years employed thousands of workers to churn out crepe paper and cut-outs. The Dennison Manufacturing Co. built a business empire on Halloween costumes, pumpkin-themed party invitations, die-cut ghosts and orange-and-black table decorations.

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Halloween ephemera from the 1920 Bogie Book

The company got its start in 1844 making paper jewelry boxes. Later it made merchandise tags. But for the Halloween ephemera collector, Dennison is the company that produced vintage Halloween party items from 1909 to the 1940s.

Dennison also made Bogie Books, retro-Halloween versions of Martha Stewart’s Living magazine. The Bogie Books showed the reader how to throw a successful Halloween party for adults. They included menus, ideas for games and many, many suggestions for decorations and costumes supplied by the Dennison Manufacturing Co.

Today, the collectors use the Bogie Books as bibles of Halloween ephemera.

Dennison Discovers Halloween

Halloween began to take off as a holiday in the late 19th century. Though trick-or-treating started in the 1920s, it didn’t really become ubiquitous until the 1950s.

Adult Halloween parties were all the rage, and you could make a lot of money selling Halloween-themed costumes and decorations.

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The Dennison factory in Framingham, which churned out tons of Halloween ephemera

The Dennison Manufacturing Co. saw the gold in Halloween ephemera. The 53-year-old company had moved to Framingham in 1897 and rocketed to success, according to the Framingham Historical Society. Its factory made so many merchandise tags it gave Framingham the nickname ‘Tag City.’ By the turn of the century, Dennison employed 3,000 people, or about a third of the town’s population. They called its 16-acre campus ‘the Gold Coast.’

In 1909, Dennison started to make Halloween party items, timing the trend perfectly. Dennison became one of the two premier American companies selling Halloween ephemera. The other was the Beistle Company of Shippensburg, Pa.

Today, legions of collectors pay hundreds of dollars for vintage Halloween ephemera made by the two companies. For example, in 1928 Dennison sold a six-section paper table decoration called Hobgoblinville for the then-steep price of $2.00, or about $28 in 2017. Recently it sold for $838.

Unfortunately for Framingham’s workforce, Dennison merged and moved to Pasadena, Calif. The name changed to Avery Dennison Corp.

Halloween Ephemera

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Detail from the cover of the 1920 Bogie Book

Collectors especially appreciate the Dennison Bogie Books. “One thing I truly thank Dennison for was their nearly always annual publication of their Halloween Bogie Books,” wrote Mark Ledenbach.

Dennison used them as sales and marketing tools, but the collector finds them invaluable as a primary source of determining the manufacture date of items.

Ledenbach manages a web site for the serious collector of vintage Halloween ephemera. He could barely contain his joy when he came upon an original 1915 Bogie Book with envelope. “OK, WOW!” he wrote. “For avid Halloween paper ephemera collectors, seeing this listing should cause your hearts to race and your sphincters to seize. Seeing this quality listing amongst so much eBay dreck made my day.”

The Bogie Book

The Bogie Book tells us a lot about 20th century social life before World War II, especially for the upwardly mobile city dweller.

The 1920 book (click here to read it) gives party advice for simple menus, alcohol-free drinks and dancing or cards. Games and decorations seem childlike by the standards of 2017. The strikingly innocent entertainment perhaps explains the appeal of the era’s Halloween ephemera.

For example, the Bogie Book recommends a lively home party:

When your guests arrive the door should swing open and the hall should be entirely dark, except for a few very faint green lights that may be followed to the dressing rooms.

If your guests are not in costume, the hostess, dressed as a witch, should give each one a hat, a necktie or some other dress accessory to wear.

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The business girl's Halloween party, with H 175 lunch set

For a business girl’s Halloween party, the Bogie Book advises her to carefully prepare her decorations in advance. Crepe paper and cutouts decorate the chandelier and windows. Dennison thoughtfully supplies Lunch Sets (H 175 is featured above) for the table. Doughnuts, oranges or apples may be served ‘dressed up,’ while the menu includes fruit cocktail, chicken patties, potato chips, ice cream, individual cakes and coffee.

Fortune-Telling

Fortune-telling games played a big part in the evening festivities according to the Bogie Book.

"The customs and superstitions that belong to this weird night are almost all connected in some way with future wedded bliss or material welfare,” instructed the 1920 Bogie Book. “Do not fail, therefore, at some time during the evening to have your guests bob for apples in a tub of water, peel apples in one continuous piece and throw the peelings over their left shoulders so that they may fall on the floor to form the initials of the future mate.”

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Black cat cutouts

Halloween ephemera plays a big part in the party games. For example, in the game ‘The Witch’s Cats,’ ‘Cat Cut-outs H 35’ should be hidden about the room.

There should be one extra man (or possible there will be an extra girl). Announce that the witch has lost her nine cats and if one of them can be found by the person without a partner it will bring him good luck and he may dance with anyone he wishes. The deposed partner may in turn hunt for a black cat and so get another partner. If the party is large several people may hunt for cats at the same time, and so the cutting in will become quite lively.

 

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