Hallowe’en How-To: Make A 1920s Vintage Halloween Party Invitation

come black cat invite dennison

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.

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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.

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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:

cute cat invite vintage

Photo Source: shewalkssoftly.com

creepy invite

Creepy! Photo Source: shewalkssoftly.com

halloween invite dennison cauldron

A Dennison invitation from the 1920s. Photo Source: Pintrest

boo invite bestile

This Beistle invitation is from the early 1920s. Photo Source: halloweencollector.com

black cat invite

Photo Source: Picssr.com

dennison die cut black cat.jpg

Another Dennison product. Photo Source: Pintrest

beistle invite with verse.jpg

This invite was made by the Beistle company. Photo Source: vintagehalloweencollector.com

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):

sample commerical invites bogie book_cut down

As the advertisement states, these are sample invitations that could be made from combining seals and cut-outs in different ways. Photo Source: The Bogie Book (1926), page 3.

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:

black cat gummed seals

Photo Source: Picclick.com

These pumpkin Dennison seals come from 1922:

pumpkin gummed seals

Photo Source: Pintrest

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:

box of dennisons seals and cut-outs vintage

A box of vintage Dennison’s Halloween cut-outs. Photo Source: Pintrest

devil cut out

This sleek devil cut-out would have been most appropriate at the “Little Devil” party. It’s also on sale at Etsy.

black cat scream seals.jpg

A Dennison cut-out. Photo Source: halloweencollector.com

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

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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

verses 1922 dennison

The inside of this 1922 Dennison wicked witch card has a cute verse on it. Photo Source: Worthpoint

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,

At _____________

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:

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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.”

Once your guest gets the invitation, they should respond “within twenty-four hours,” advises “Dame Curtsey” in Dame Curtsey’s Book of Etiquette (1909).

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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.

For reproductions, the stationary section of The Vintage Halloween Store is a great place to start.

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.

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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!

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Works Cited:
1. Farrar, Addie. “Hints for Halloween Frolics; Informality the Chief Mark.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 23, 1910. https://search.proquest.com/docview/173504792?accountid=3688.
2. Burr, Agnes R. “Attractive Plans for Halloween; “Little Devil” Party the Latest.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 24, 1909. https://search.proquest.com/docview/173444613?accountid=3688.
3. “How the Fashionable Peter Pan Collar is made. Quaint Ideas for the Hostess to use at the Halloween Party.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 10, 1909. https://search.proquest.com/docview/173473175?accountid=3688.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.
6. Whitaker, Hazel. “How to have Fun on Halloween.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 24, 1915. https://search.proquest.com/docview/173964083?accountid=3688.
7. Bannatyne, Lesley Pratt. 2005. Halloween: an American holiday, an American history. Gretna, La: Pelican Pub. Co. p. 119.
8. Ibid, p 111.
9. Stewart, Esther W. “Progressive Witches’ Party Will be Lot of Fun for Halloween.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 09, 1910. https://search.proquest.com/docview/173478127?accountid=3688.
10. Farrar, Addie. “Hints for Halloween Frolics; Informality the Chief Mark.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 23, 1910. https://search.proquest.com/docview/173504792?accountid=3688.
11. Ibid.
12. Burr, Agnes R. “Attractive Plans for Halloween; “Little Devil” Party the Latest.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 24, 1909. https://search.proquest.com/docview/173444613?accountid=3688.
13. Krecker, Ada M. “Household Hints.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 24, 1904. https://search.proquest.com/docview/173206314?accountid=3688.
14. Ibid.
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About lupachi1927

My name's Megan, and I'm a writer with an interest in history. While I might not be a real historian, I'm a very thorough researcher. This blog is my place to post about all the interesting historical tidbits I find that can't use in the novel I'm working on, which takes place in Chicago in 1927. If you're looking for research help, writing feedback, or just want to say hi, feel free to drop me a line! :)
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3 Responses to Hallowe’en How-To: Make A 1920s Vintage Halloween Party Invitation

  1. Pingback: Hallowe’en How-To: A Crafty Miniseries for October 2017! | A Smile And A Gun

  2. Pingback: Hallowe’en How-To: Decorate Your Home for Halloween With Vintage Flair | A Smile And A Gun

  3. Pingback: Hallowe’en How-To: What Food to Serve at Your Vintage Halloween Party | A Smile And A Gun

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