Dennison Diecut Witches, ca. 1920

These tiny diecut witches were sold in quite large sheets by Dennison in the mid-20s. Each diecut is about 28.5 x 47.5 mm (1 1/8″ x 1 7/8″); as you can see the stock number is 4534. Larger, and more detailed, versions of these diecuts were also produced. I saw one two years ago that was 98.5 mm (or 3 7/8″) tall, but I was well-and-truly-outbid—it sold for US$233 [about A$350]—and I have not seen another since.

The individual witches would probably have been cut off the sheet to decorate cards, seal envelopes etc., although special-purpose “seals” were also sold in small boxes with adhesive already on them. Being cheaper, and even more ephemeral than other Halloween decorations, these diecuts are quite rare and do not feature in any of the collector’s guides to Halloweeniana.

The curious thing about this design is the collar, which is straight off a Clown or Harlequin outfit. As I have said before there seems to have been a transition in the first decade or so of the twentieth century from simple or crude (home-made) outfits worn by middle-class men and women to more detailed, sophisticated and shop-purchased costumes. (The rich have always had beautiful tailor-made masquerade—and Halloween—costumes.) One of the most popular or the home-made type was the Harlequin, which is just a baggy jump-suit, frilly collar and peaked hat with pom-poms. Very easy to make.

It is often difficult to distinguish a Harlequin vs a Witch in transitional costumes, and I have given away many items that turned out not to be a witch, or not sufficiently witchy for this blog, once I got them home. For me the hat and the owl are the clincher in this image, this is because the hat is black, pointed and it carries standard Halloween imagery (the JOL), rather than having the multicoloured stripes, ribbons and blunt top of the Harlequin. The pom-pom-like decoration on the side of the hat above the ear is a bit of a worry, but it is only one, not three, and it is not at the top, where you might expect it. Also, Clowns are certainly not associated with full moons and owls; and Halloween witches are always female, whereas clowns were both male and female to begin with, but increasingly were only males (certainly by the 20s, which is when this diecut is from). So, all considered, I’d say this is about 75% witch, 25% clown/Harlequin. Which is why it is here.

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