The Halloween Tradition Of Romantic Tricks & Treats

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.

halloween-bewitching-vintage-postcardIncluded 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!

German Porcelain Miniature Fortune-Telling Doll Wooden Tuck Comb Doll as Fortune-Telling Doll

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.)

Grödnertal Wooden Doll as French Fortune Teller antique

antique witch fortune telling doll

antique french fortune telling doll

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.

Image Credits: Antique fortune telling dolls via, via, via.

Don’t Touch the Bed Doll

This bed doll with her crocheted dress comes from Etsy, GK and TEA.

A long, long time ago my Mother bought me a doll, a bed doll. It was a beautiful doll with an elegant white gown, ribbon flowers and her hair done up in a fancy way. I kept her for a very long time, but she was always made me sad. No fault of the doll. It was one of the things I did which I later regretted.

When we bought the doll my Mother explained that she was meant to be kept on the bed to look pretty. You don’t play with her, you don’t undress her (some of the dress was not meant to be taken off it was sewn on the doll body to an exact fit), most of all, you don’t un-do her hairstyle. I said I would remember all that and just have her sit on my bed. My Mom was hoping this would be another reason for me to get into the habit of making my bed each morning. Sadly, it didn’t work out.

I never get into the bed making habit. Worse, it was not long before my curious mind had to get to work on her hair. Well, some things you just can’t ever fix or put back the way they originally were. She wore the same dress, mostly untouched but her hair was never the same again. So, I always felt a bit bad for letting my Mom down.

Bed dolls seem an old fashioned thing now. But, I like the old fashioned, romantic things. I was glad to find a bed doll with a home made crochet outfit on Etsy. There were a few of them. I wonder if they sell well or hang around, waiting for some silly curious girl to come along and mess up their hair.

This is a vintage bed doll with an old china face and a dress (not crocheted). From the Fritzy Etsy shop.

Of Valentino, Mineralava Beauty Pageants & Pink Powder Puffs

As a feminist, I have a complicated, conflicted, relationship with beauty pageants. But this vintage booklet from the 1923 Mineralava Beauty Pageant fascinates me because of the man involved: Rudolph Valentino.

Not just some master of ceremonies, Valentino was both the star and the prize of this contest: “The Most Beautiful Woman In America May be the Leading Lady of Valentino’s Next Picture.”

When the silent film star walked out of his Famous Players-Lasky (FP-L) contract in 1923, the studio suspended him without pay and won an injunction that prevented him from working for another studio, leaving the decadent dandy desperate for money. In Rudolph Valentino & the Mineralava Tour of 1923, Edward Lorusso explains:

Desperate for money, Valentino and Rambova decided to create a dance act and tour the country for Mineralava Beauty Clay cosmetics. Starting in New York City’s Century Theatre at a benefit for the Actors Fund on a bill with Will Rogers and Jeanne Eagels, the couple caused a sensation and received 20 curtain calls. Valentino was stampeded by 300 fans as he left the theater. A Boston headline claimed “10,000 Girls Mob World’s Greatest Kisser.” The mobs became so predictable that Valentino and Rambova often escaped theaters over rooftops. The couple performed in 88 cities in the United States and Canada during a grueling 17-week tour. The hysteria followed them wherever they performed.

The dance tour garnered a tremendous amount of publicity and earned the couple a big weekly salary plus a percentage of the gate. They broke house records in several theaters. But while Valentino was mobbed by hordes of fans in every city, local newspaper coverage often sniped at his romantic movie image and professional dancing as being “unmanly.” Plus, Valentino was hawking beauty products that he claimed to use himself.

Following the example of dance idols Ted Shawn and Ruth St. Denis, the Valentinos created exotic dances and sumptuous costumes to the accompaniment of their own traveling orchestra. They performed a number of dances, but the tango routines were the ones that always brought down the house.

The beauty contest (the Miss America contest started in 1921) was another publicity angle of the tour. Mineralava sponsored a contest in each of the tour’s 88 cities and Valentino “judged” all the contestants. Then all 88 beauties descended on New York City, where they were paraded up Fifth Avenue to the Madison Square Garden. A young David O. Selznick made a short film of the contest called Rudolph Valentino and His 88 American Beauties; the film survives and is a fascinating glimpse at a “natural” Rudolph Valentino as well as the beauty contest styles of the day. Selznick shows the terrifying hordes of people who mobbed the streets outside Madison Square Garden, hoping for a glimpse of Valentino. Inside the Garden, the 88 girls come out onto a stage that is surrounded by crowds. Each girl (most with bobbed hair and bee-stung lips) parades in a gown and sash proclaiming her city and carrying (for some unknown reason) a ribboned Bo-Peep staff.

More details on the tour here, including a list of the tour stops.

Along with being a great advertising piece, I find this vintage booklet to be a lovely little piece of women’s history, combining the power of the women as consumers with their status as prey for marketers. Along with the testimonials from “women in American Homes,” collectors of silent film will also enjoy all the celebrity endorsements from silent film stars such as Nazimova, Mae Murray, Marion Davies, and Marie Prevost.

Other items from this beauty pageant tour can be found too. Donna L. Hill, author of Rudolph Valentino The Silent Idol: His Life in Photographs (who also runs, owns this original trophy from the Mineral Lava Beauty Contest in Baltimore. (The Baltimore contestant came in third overall in the national contest.)

Along with trophies, Mineralava gave out boudoir dolls of Rudolph Valentino and Natacha Rambova to contest winners.

As fabulous as this pageant was for Valentino (it did get him a better contract — if also assisting in the “Pink Powder Puff” slur) and, one presumes, Scott’s Mineralava Beauty Clay, at the time, the story doesn’t really end well… Valentino’s life lasted just a few more years and Mineralava seems only a footnote in the life of Valentino.

Image Credits:
Images of the 1923 Mineralava Beauty Pageant booklet, measuring 5 1/2 by 8 inches, via Grapefruit Moon Gallery.

Photo of the Mineralava trophy belongs to Donna L. Hill; found via Cinema OCD.

Old newspaper archive photo of Rudolph Valentino and Natacha Rambova boudoir dolls found in The Doll of Choice by Movie Stars & Naughty Girls, by Linda Wulfestieg (published in Contemporary Doll Collector, March 2009).