Halloween was once steeped in the tradition of belief that the veil between this world and the next was thinnest at this time of year and so was considered a time when fortunes could be best told. Not even the Victorian era and it’s designs to clean-up the naked bonfire bawdiness could quash that Hallowe’en tradition. In fact, the Victorian notions of romance and marriage quite fed such things. Especially the romantic sort of fortune telling, predicting whom you might marry.
Included in this historical paper trail are the antique and vintage Halloween postcards. There, among the now-so-traditional Halloween fare of witches and black cats, are the romantic Halloween postcards. Sometimes these are simply postcards with romantic prose, courtship rituals, or even wistful, hopeful sentiments. But there too, along with icons or symbols of witchcraft (such as caldrons, clocks, mirrors, and potions), there are the utterly charm-ing old postcards of spell-casting or divination. These discuss the magical steps one might take to find love and bind lovers. Some are quite clearly the stuff of parlor games.
There were quite a number of fortune telling games. Some, like the postcards, provided instructions. Others were of the oral tradition. For example, among the myriad of seasonal apple traditions is the one in which single ladies peeled an entire apple and then tossed the long peel behind them. The shape the apple peeling took was said to form the first letter of the first name of their future mate.
Along with these sorts of party games, there were dolls who might help a single lady out.
In the 1800s, both France and Germany made wooden, and porcelain, dolls with skirts over paper petticoats, of sorts. It was on the paper pages of the skirting that one found one’s fortune. Much like a fancier version of the paper fortune telling games played in schools now!
This is an antique wooden Grödnertal fortune telling doll. (So-named for the Grödnertal region of Germany where the original peg wooden dolls were made.)
In French these fortune telling dolls are known as “bebe a bonne aventure” dolls.
They are often depicted as witches or gypsies, which is rather keeping in the Halloween tradition.
See also: Collecting New Age Items From Old Eras.