I mentioned in An Introduction to my Book how the material form in which various witch-images appeared corresponds neatly with a chronological scheme. I also said that I would put together some new index-pages under a title like “Types of Objects” and will write the text of each chapter for these pages. Well, I thought I’d start with tally cards, even though I know less about them than almost any other type of object, because the heyday of tally cards is so short. As far as I can tell, just one decade.
Tally Cards, or tallies, are used when playing Bridge and Whist. Contract bridge (i.e. “bridge”) is a card game derived from Whist, which was played widely in the 18th and 19th centuries. In 1925, H. S. Vanderbilt set out his rules to a version of the game that, according to Wikipedia, “within a few years … had so supplanted other forms of the game that ‘bridge’ became synonymous with ‘contract bridge.’” The game of Bridge—and the scoring—is reasonably complex, so it is a game usually played only by adults. This is an important thing to keep in mind when we look at the decorations on these cards.
On the back of each tally card there are printed spaces for a table or couple number and/or a name, and between eight and a dozen scores (i.e. for an “8 count” or a “12 count” tally card). Although the main function of a tally card is to keep a tally of the score, the main attraction for the collector is the decoration on the front of the cards. Given how little consideration was given by the designers of these cards to the convenience of keeping a tally on them, it seems that for the designers, publishers and purchasers, the main attraction was the decoration on the front of the cards!
According to Irene (eBayer “55audrey”) there are hundreds of tallies, but they have not featured very prominently in collectors guides to Halloweeniana. Stuart Schneider’s Halloween in America: A Collector’s Guide with Prices (1995), 78–79, contains four, and the first edition of Mark B. Ledenbach, Vintage Halloween Collectibles: An Identification and Price Guide (2003), 114, contains only three! The second edition of Mark’s book (2007) was a huge improvement in this regard: it contains almost thirty tallies (pp, 217–20).
As a consequence of Mark’s increased coverage, and because of the great tallies that have been turning up online, I have been looking out for them. I now have ten sexy witch tallies and know of at least half-a-dozen others that would be suitable for this blog. Of these, I have only blogged about three so far, but more posts are on the way!
Stuart, Mark and Irene are remarkably consistent in their dating of these tallies: either ca. 1925 or ca. 1930. And, if you look at my posts, you will see that I also date them to this decade on stylistic grounds. There are a number of possible explanations for this:  Halloween was terribly popular for only one decade (which I know is not true);  Bridge was terribly popular for only one decade (which I know is not true);  playing bridge at Halloween was terribly popular for only one decade (which is possible),  playing bridge at Halloween was terribly popular for more than one decade, but the designers of tally cards produced cards—for many decades—that look like they were published in the 20s (which is possible). At the moment I favour no. 3 (with a dash of no. 4).
Tallies were bought, and used almost exclusively, by adults; nevertheless, the range of Halloween motifs on them is much the same as any other Halloween item of the time: we see hag-witches, JOLs, cats, ghosts, party scenes etc, as well as sexy witches. The only difference, it seems to me, is that sexy-witches are a much more common theme than usual. Although only two of Mark’s twenty-seven cards could be considered sexy witches, Mark has made it clear that he prefers the “scary” (which he considers adult) to “banal” (pretty) imagery. He is also clearly trying to show the range of material, rather than the relative proportion of each theme.
If we compare tallies to many of the other types of Halloweeniana that feature in collecting guides (die-cuts, candy containers, figurines, noisemakers, etc) this relative strength of the sexy witch image is clear. To my knowledge there is not a single candy container or figurine that uses sexy witch imagery, there are a few die-cuts and noisemakers, but nowhere near as many—in absolute or relative terms—as tallies, postcards, press photos etc. I would argue that this is because tallies, postcards, press photos etc were designed primarily for adults.
Put another way, it seems to have always been the case that whenever a category of decorative Halloweeniana was produced primarily for adults it was likely to feature sexy witches. This suggests, as I have argued before, that “pretty witches” cannot be used as an index to the presence of children at Halloween celebrations. In fact, the opposite seems to be the case. Folk-tale and fairy tale hag-witches were for the kiddies; these hotties were for the adults!