For years, old Halloween candy containers, cards and decorations were the wallflowers of holiday collectibles.
That tacky orange and black just didn't go over; neither did those goofy pumpkins and cackling witches.
Collectors snapped up antique Valentines, with their elegant rose and lace motifs, or old Christmas decorations, with shining tinsel and smiling St. Nicks.
Even Labor Day postcards stirred more interest than Halloween cards, because of their scarcity.
But, in recent years, prices for old Halloween souvenirs have soared higher than the Wicked Witch on her broomstick; prices are up 30 percent this year, and Halloween is now the holiday, collectors say.
"The market has just gone wacky," says Pamela Abkarian-Russell, publisher of the Trick-or-Treat Trader newsletter.
Her husband recently bought his Ms. Abkarian-Russell a $600 gift for her collection -- two rare pre-1920s Halloween postcards.
Papier-mache pumpkin candleholders from the 1930s sell for more than $150. Tin Halloween noisemakers from the 1950s that sold for $4-$12 six years ago are advertised at $30-$40.
At Orange (Calif.) Circle Antique Mall in Old Towne Orange, sample prices include $150 for a 1920 hardened-clay pumpkin candy container from Germany; $36 for a 3-inch chenille witch nut cup from the 1930s; and $20 for a 1940s cat, mouse and moon paper decoration.
The most notable sale this year of a Halloween-related item: an 1882 Rookwood pottery vase decorated with witches, broomsticks and black cats, which fetched $13,750 at a Rookwood auction, according to Kovels on Antiques and Collectibles' October newsletter.
The new popularity is ironic. Christmas ornaments and romantic Valentines were meant to be saved. But typical Halloween collectibles -- candy containers, paper jack-o'-lanterns and other paper decorations -- were cheap, easily tossed out with the candy wrappers.
"Halloween containers were meant to go out in the dark and the rain and to hold sticky, messy candy," says Claudine Lynch, who collects all holiday souvenirs for her booth at the Orange Circle Antique Mall.
Many serious collectors focus on early toys and decorations -- made in Germany and exported for the uniquely American holiday, says Dolph Gotelli, an avid collector and professor of design at the University of California, Davis.
Who's buying? Halloween buffs, but sometimes it's the Christmas collector who has switched obsessions, says Tom Pritchard, an avid Halloween collector.
"Holiday collectibles have a fundamental appeal because they center around childhood memories," Mr. Pritchard says. "Collecting triggers some euphoric recall of those innocent moments of joy -- getting presents under the tree. Getting candy at Halloween."
The Midwest and East Coast probably have the greatest troves of Halloween ephemera. There was more of it there, and it survived better, collectors say.
California collectors must be wily to develop a collection, says Halloween collector Ed Hopf of Huntington Beach. Like many collectors, he orders from nationwide dealers who sell through the mail.
Ms. Lynch occasionally hits the jackpot at Southern California estate sales and swap meets, but discoveries are rare and getting rarer, she says.
Trick-or-Treat Trader is available by subscription by writing P.O. Box 499, 4 Lawrance St., Winchester, N.H. 03470. Sample issue $4; four quarterly issues are $15.
Theriault's is offering Victorian-style Halloween decorations, including a a candy box with children, pumpkins and a black cat, set of three ($5.95); and a wooden pumpkin jumping jack ($8.95). Shipping costs, $5. Call (800) 966-DOLL.