Looking to make some vintage invitations for your Halloween party this year? Then follow these steps, and you’ll be stuffing those envelopes in no time.
Step One: Pick Your Party’s Theme
Does your party have a theme, like ghosts, witches, or devils? If so, your invitations better match—and the more original they are, the better!
Originality was important because by the 1920s, your Halloween party would have had some pretty steep competition. From the Victorian age through the 1920s, Halloween was a popular holiday with adults rather than children, and many clever hosts and hostesses competed among themselves to throw the most unusual, fun, and memorable Halloween party with the most guests—and they all started with the invitation.
“The invitation offers the first chance for real originality,” counsels The Bogie Book (1926), and a smart host or hostess wouldn’t pass up the chance to get their guest’s attention right away with a unique and eye-catching invite. Here are three sample invitations with different themes, based on actual Halloween parties from the 1910s:
For a “ghost party,” “send out your invitations in the shape of skulls made of stiff white paper with the writing in red ink.”1
For a “devil” party, use invitations illustrated with “little red devils,” which matched the devilish decorations, devil party favors, the red lighting, and the “spicy” foods served.2
For a “bat” party, make “bat-shaped bits of black cardboard” and write the invitation in white ink.
Step Two: Homemade or Store Bought?
The early 20th saw an explosion of commercial products for Halloween, including party invitations. During the early 1920s, there were two major companies that made these products: the Dennison Manufacturing Company in Framingham, MA, and the Beistle Company in Shippensburg, PA. Dennsion in particular was well-known for its Halloween products, thanks to the annual catalogs they released in the form of The Bogie Book, which offered guidance for hosting Halloween parties while promoting their products.
Check out some vintage Halloween party invitations below:
For those who could not afford completely pre-made invitations, there were always Halloween-themed gummed seals and cardboard cut-outs. Just like with Christmas wrapping paper in the 1920s, gummed seals and colorful cut-outs were easy ways to add a bit of flair to an otherwise plain note card. Here is a selection of such cut-outs from the Dennison Paper Company’s ever-popular Bogie Book (1926):
Gummed seals were also popular. When wet, they could be affixed to objects as if they were stickers. Here is a sample of a real 1920s box with the original seals, also a Dennison product, which apparently sold for around $227.
These Stanley’s Everyday Seals are also Halloween themed:
These pumpkin Dennison seals come from 1922:
Besides seals, cardboard cut-outs were also popular decoration aids. Check out this gorgeous box of vintage Dennison cut-outs, each one in its own little sleeve:
Of course, you could also make your own invitations from scratch, as many hosts did for smaller parties. Here are some ideas from the Chicago Tribune:
“…cut from yellow cardboard tiny pumpkins, and with water color paints indicate their stripes and stem. On one side letter the invitation, and on the other a grinning jack o’ lantern face.”3
“…use cards of the usual size, with a little black witch flying through the air on a broomstick stenciled in one corner, while in the lower opposite corner the witches’ black cat arches his back and waves his tail. These little figures should be in solid black.”4
You could even make a little themed booklet for the invite. As the Tribune describes,
“one clever hostess sent out little booklets, on the cover of which stood a gayly painted witch. Above her, lettered: ‘Would’st know thy future?’ And below her: ‘Look within.’ And inside was found the little invitation, which certainly might be construed as a part of future good times.”5
There were even “freaky” invitations that would require your guests to use a mirror to read them:
“Even the invitations should ‘smack’ of the coming event. Yellow pumpkins, black cats with green eyes, or those freaky, button faced cards with the invitations written backwards to be read on a mirror…”6
No matter what kind of invitation you made, however, the tone of your invite was the same. As Lesley Bannatyne noted in her book Halloween: An American Holiday, An American History, by the early 1900s Halloween had transformed from its superstitious Old World roots into a “friendly, harmless, and cheerful holiday, more fun than frightening,” and party invitations reflected this—mostly through rhyme!7
Step Three: Pick Your Rhyme
In order to make your Halloween party invitation truly vintage, it simply must rhyme. Early 20th century Halloween invitations and postcards were full of spooky rhymes that usually gave the reader a hint about what kind of party they might be going to. Many made references to fate as well, since early Halloween celebrations often involved fortune-telling games that predicted romantic couplings. Here are some fun vintage examples you could easily rework for your own invitations:
“Come at the witching hour of eight
And let the faeries read your fate;
Reveal to none this secret plot
or woe—not luck—will be your lot!”8
If you’re hosting a Halloween dance, try this one from The Bogie Book (1926):
“At Hallowe’en a dance I am giving,
Come mingle with the dead and living;
For I’m inviting spooks as well,
Who will impart a magic spell.” (The Bogie Book (1926), pg. 9)
This unusual verse was actually used as an invite in 1917 for a “successful…progressive witch party” on Halloween, according to the Chicago Tribune:
“Ye warlocks of ye old kirk,
Werricoes and evil spirits,
And a’ things that gang by nicht,
Commend ye to assemble
In witches’ garb
At the hour of 6,
To feast from
The boiling cauldron of
Snakes, toads, and vermin rare;
There’s naught else that can compare.
So scrape your feet on the witches’ mat
And come at the sign of the black cat.”9
These verses were suggested for use at a “ghost party,” where everyone would come dressed in white sheets, pillow cases, or domino masks:
“Your spirit is requested to be present at a convention of ghosts to be held Halloween at the home of _______.”10
“Come prepared to hear your doom and wear the insignia of the order of ghosts—a white domino mask or sheet and pillow case.”11
For a devil-themed Halloween party:
“If you want a hot time, come to my Little Devil party.”12
One hostess threw a very mysterious and elaborate Halloween party in 19XXX wich started off with this strange invite, which was double-sided. The front read:
“Come spend with us a happy nicht
And crack a joke together.”13
…And the back side came with specific instructions:
“1. Please keep your invitation a secret.
2. Please be at the side door at 8 o’clock.
3. Reveal your identity to no one.
4. Do not speak until the clock strikes 0.”14
These instructions for a Dennison invite, circa 1922, would also be appropriate:
Step Four: Send Them Out!
Now that you have your invitations made, you need to send them out to your guests. But when, exactly, should you do that? Good thing we’ve got tons of period etiquette guides to tell us how! 🙂
Regarding party invitations, The Encylopaedia of Etiquette (1922) by Emily Holt says that invitations should be issued “as early as twenty days before the date fixed upon, and never later than ten days before.” All invitations, whether “given at any season of the year,” should be “engraved on white letter sheets, or on large, heavy, white bristol board cards. Script or block lettering is preferred…when for any reason engraved invitations are not to be had, they may be written, in a clear hand, on sheets of white or gray note paper.”
Where to Get Your Own Vintage Invites:
If you want your own vintage invites but don’t want to make them yourself, you’ve got three options: buy reproductions, buy unused antique cards, or get some made with a retro vibe.
Antique cards are a little harder to come by, and it can be rare to find enough of them for actual invites. Marcin Antiques offers an entire collection of vintage Halloween memorbelia for sale to start with, and there’s always Ebay and Etsy of course. However, if you plan to buy antique Halloween collectibles on Ebay, you should definitely read the FAQ over at Mark Ledenbach’s Halloween memorabilia blog, halloweencollector.com, where he describes how to avoid unscrupulous dealers. This post at halloweenmagazine.com tells you about other places to find and purchase antique Halloween products.
But if all you’re looking for is a retro vibe for your invitations, there are tons of modern printing outlets who can create vintage-style invites without a gummed seal in sight. Check out retroinvites.com, Zazzle, cafepress, Etsy, and Pintrest for retro takes on Halloween invites.
What about you, dear readers? Have you ever made or received a really fun or unique Halloween party invitation? If so, what was it like? Please share in the Comments below!