By Roy Nuhn
One of the wondrous things about early 20th-century advertising blotters, those miniature billboards once handed out to customers by local stores and manufacturers of all sorts of goods, is their diversity. Many topicals can be found, including Uncle Sam, automobiles, Disney characters, presidential, political and military. The artwork of many American artists, such as Norman Rockwell and Vernon Grant, abounds.
Offering the same motifs and traditional symbols decorating most old-time ephemera, Halloween blotters have lately become very popular collectibles.
Months-of-the-year sets offer the greatest source of All Hallows Eve blotters. Nearly all of the October entries in these many sets embody Halloween illustrations. Some were given away by merchants in late September or early October to coincide with the selling of masks, costumes, greeting cards, party decorations and other items for celebrating and enjoying the holiday.
Other businesses, among them gas stations and auto repair shops, office suppliers, and producers of household goods of all kinds, hoped they would be saved with other month blotters or throughout October; either way insuring their advertising message would remain in front of the consumer for a long time.
Among the best are the October issues of the many general stock sets done by Lawson Wood showcasing the antics and shenanigans of his cartoon creation, Gran’pop, who was popular both in England and in this country. This rascally chimpanzee, with support from his pals, was always getting himself involved in all kinds of situations. On the October 1944 blotter, for instance, Gran’pop is reading his crystal ball amidst a darkish Halloween background.
A 1944 set of children scenes, the unsigned work of C. Twelvetrees and produced by giant printer Brown and Bigelow of Joliet, Illinois, as general stock merchandise, has a scene of two small boys setting up a prank at some unlucky neighbor’s house. The caption on this is a blend of seasonal ambiance and Halloween:
“October, the country’s much less green
But it ends with old Halloween.”
This blotter was published by Williams Laboratory and given to dentists, with an imprint of their names, who purchased their supplies and services. These, in turn, were distributed by the dentists to patients.
In 1947, a months-of-the-year set was provided by Maryland Casualty Company, Baltimore, an insurance company, to agents selling their policies. A very nice October blotter from this depicts a Halloween scene full of supernatural creatures. Halloween blotters came from other sources as well. Jack-0-Lantern bulk crepe paper by the Regal Paper Company (Pulaski/ N.Y.), as an example, portrays a black cat, with hair bristling and a smiling animated pumpkin face, atop a fence.
This most likely dates to the 1930s or early ’40s.
Though not directly tied into Halloween, the many blotters distributed by Blue Coal promoted both its product and the radio show it sponsored, “The Shadow.” Images of the mysterious avenger were often used.
The show was broadcast for two decades, from the 1930s to the mid-1950s. Blue Coal was the sponsor for most of the time, until the late 1940s, when the anthracite industry collapsed, so we can assume the blotters are of 1930s vintage. This hypothesis is reinforced by an inspection of the telephone numbers of the local dealer’s imprinted on the blotters. They all have three and four digit numbers, a system in use during the ’20s and ’30s.
How easy are Halloween theme blotters to find? On a scale of one to ten, they are about a 5. More difficult to find than Uncle Sam or Santa Claus, but easier than a Norman Rockwell or a World’s Fair, they can be found by persistent collectors at prices ranging from $10 to $25.
Where can they be found? Blotters of all kinds are carried by most ephemera dealers and are listed in their sales lists, auctions, or offered for sale at shows. Surprisingly, the largest sellers of them tend to be postcard dealers. This is undoubtedly a reflection of the blotter’s strong appeal to card collectors, who find that postcards and blotters share many common bonds. In a few instances, even some of the same pictorials appear on both.
With the coming of ballpoint pens in the 1950s, blotters became obsolete seemingly overnight. With no new additions to the topical, the search for those printed so many years ago intensifies.
Halloween collectibles in every shape and form have always fascinated collectors. Blotters are just another wonderful item to pursue.
Halloween Blotters/ Captions
1. Beloved 1930s and ’40s carton character Gran’pop gazes into his crystal ball. Part of general stock months-of-the-year set sold by important calendar maker Brown & Bigelow.
2. Nice Halloween blotter, part of Regal Paper Company’s “Father Goose Series” (1930s or ’40s).