Halloween ReproductionsBy Mark Chervenka
Halloween Reproductions - Lanterns and Candy Containers
Very few categories of fakes and reproductions have shown the growth in numbers and improved manufacturing techniques as Halloween related objects. The rather crude lanterns and candy containers ACRN first reported on have evolved into very carefully planned, well-made creations which are virtually exact copies of vintage originals.
Where most Halloween reproductions of the 1990s were simple generic jack o'lanterns–copies of originals typically worth less than $100 – the later generation features many copies of very specific rare and scarce originals worth $500 and up.
Separating new from old has become very difficult. Although most reproductions are mass produced overseas, they are being made by hand in much the same manner as vintage originals. New pieces from China, India and the Philippines have the random irregularities and flaws collectors have previously used to authentic genuine pieces.
Separating New from Old
The wide range of vintage pieces, as well as the ever growing number of reproductions, makes it difficult to offer a list of hard and fast rules for separating new and old. So many new and improved reproductions keep coming into the market, what's true today maybe incorrect next week. At this point in time, the following suggestions are some of the general guidelines to help you detect a good majority, but certainly far from all, of the reproductions currently in the market.
The dull flat paint on the latest reproductions is nearly identical to that found on vintage pieces. Many new colors are close matches for vintage colors. Long wave black light will fluoresce some, but far from all, new paint, particularly reds and most white.
One of the best tests of age for paint is simply to smell the surface. Many reproductions still have a strong paint odor for a year or more after manufacture. If the paint stinks, so does the seller if they're offering the item as old.
Surface Finish -
The great majority of vintage pre-1940 paper mâché and composition lanterns and candy containers have a relatively smooth dull exterior surface. A rough exterior surface is often a sign of a reproduction. One series of new pumpkin lanterns, for example, has a deeply crackled exterior surface (Fig. 8). Any piece with this deeply crackled surface is suspicious and is almost certainly new.
Another warning sign of a potential reproduction is the presence of clean white chips in the surface (Fig. 10). Since many new pieces, like the originals, are coated with gesso–a mixture of water and plaster–before painting, the white plaster shows through the new chips. Chips in vintage pieces made 50 to 80 years have darkened from absorbing dust and dirt. Of course, you need to be alert for artificially darkened new chips.
Lantern paper, the paper behind the eyes, nose and mouth in lanterns, can provide important clues to age. Original lantern paper is translucent; it helped spread and diffuse the light from the candle flame. Bright ink or paint on the papers also provided extra color to the lighted lantern.
Most colored details on original lantern papers were applied as a solid block of color (see Fig. 14, AC). Even up to 10X magnification, the colored areas generally appear as smooth continuous fields of unbroken color. The majority of original papers were lithographed with stones or rubber mats or screen printed; some were hand colored.
Recently made lantern papers are very often produced on laser or inkjet printers. These types of digital printers almost always create distinct patterns in the color. Inkjets, for example, form fields of color made up of randomly shaped blobs, or drops, of colored ink. Both lasers and inkjet printers deposit inks and toners in relatively narrow horizontal rows, one row at a time. If the rows become slightly misaligned it can produce "banding," an horizontal striping obvious to the unaided eye. The more subtle structure of blurred dots may require 5X-10X magnification. New lantern papers made on home inkjet printers are particularly common as replacement papers.
Some mass produced lantern papers are printed on traditional printing presses. These are identified by solid colors broken into a regular repeated network of similar sized dots, or screen pattern. The human eye blends the dots in our brain to create the appearance of a solid mass of color. The rigid repeated system of dots is easily detected with a 10X loupe; some coarse screens can be observed with the unaided eye.
Nearly all original lantern paper is translucent. A number of reproductions and modern replacements are made from ordinary office-quality white opaque paper. This is especially true of replacement papers made on home inkjet printers. Inkjet papers are specially designed to be opaque in order to prevent bleed-through of the inkjet droplets of color.
Most new papers, especially inkjet and laser papers, will fluoresce under long wave black light. Original papers rarely, if ever, fluoresce. Modern synthetic glues used to attach new papers to new lanterns generally fluoresce. Most old glues made of natural materials do not fluoresce. Of course, you might find a repair where a genuinely old paper has been reattached to an old lantern with new glue.
New lantern papers are becoming increasingly sophisticated. The new stock used in the lantern paper in Fig. 12, for example, is a very close match to the parchment-like translucent paper found in originals. The front has been skillfully stained to appear old. Look at the back of the paper, though, and you'll see a perfectly new white surface. Generally, natural aging appears about the same from front to back on vintage papers. If anything, the inside surfaces of lantern papers are often darker from candle smoke.
Stuart Schneider, author of Halloween in America, offers these additional hints and tips for detecting new Halloween items:
- beware of "mint" items; most vintage pieces shown natural wear
- be suspicious of items you can't find in reference books on Halloween; many new items are "fantasy" creations with no vintage counterparts;
- many original paper mâché pumpkin lanterns have raised rims around the outside of the bottom rim; most new pumpkins lanterns do not have a raised rim.