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The black cat is a scarier image than the skeleton on these vintage stickers. This is a box of gummed seals made by Dennison, circa 1930.

Green-faced witches, freakish ghouls and evil imps are among scary Halloween images that rattle my bones. But for some eerie reason, one Halloween symbol -- the skeleton -- has never sent shivers up my spine. And that's because skeletons are oft portrayed as partying, fun-loving creatures.

I've collected all sorts of Halloween memorabilia over the past four decades. Still, it wasn't until a couple of years ago that I noticed most skeletons were rather benign compared to the snarling ebony cats, creepy ghosts and other weird-looking figures ordinarily associated with Halloween.

Many skeletons are jointed and made out of heavy paper or cardboard. Referred to as cutouts, or die-cuts, the decorations were used to dress up cafeterias, schools, department store windows, homes and libraries.

Constructed using tiny rivets, the skeletons were able to simply hang down, or with a bend or two, be placed into an endless variety of positions.

The earliest of these novelties came from Germany and sported a shiny finish. These can fetch as much as $150 at specialty sales handling holiday merchandise.

By the 1930s, our American skeletons began to display toothy grins as they swayed wildly to the "jitterbug," a dance popular in that decade. The cost of these decorations varies depending on condition and size, but quite a few can be had for under $40.

My favorite skeleton -- the one I recall from my youth -- was made around 1960 by the Dennison Manufacturing Co. of Framingham, Mass. Like most other cutouts issued by the giant firm, it came in sundry sizes.


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This cheery chap leans on one foot and is waving hello. Cobwebs have formed in between the skeleton's arms and legs, perhaps suggestive of being in the same position for a lengthy stretch. These run from $8 to $20 each these days.

Another nifty cardboard skeleton -- one of a set of 12 heavily embossed designs -- was made by the Beistle Co. of Shippensburg, Pa., in the 1930s and '40s.

This jazzy-looking duo wear snazzy boots. One plays a banjo, the other a saxophone. A bright-orange, smiley-faced full moon joins in on the Halloween revelry. You might have to shell out $125 for this scarce die-cut.

Skeletons also adorn Halloween party invitations. Some decked out in bow ties beckon invitees to get into the spirit of the holiday. An invitation by Hallmark Cards from the 1950s depicts a skeleton predicting that anyone at the event will have a joyous time, an emotion he feels "deep in his bones."

Halloween postcards dating back to 1905-20 sometimes call attention to skulls or skeletons. I've got a card mailed from Visalia to a pal in Selma.

Not so scary

I view the greeting as amusing, even sort of goofy, but certainly not frightening. This sender, however, in her 1910 message writes, "Isn't this about spooky enough? I would hate to meet it." Published by The Rose Co., this card would bring in about $15.

Dennison, plus other suppliers of paper goods, made an assortment of items spotlighting the skeleton. You can find treat bags, napkins and tablecloths, gummed seals, nut cups, hats and the like, at antiques stores, shows, flea markets, tag sales and estate liquidations.

Over the years, I've had luck locating Halloween collectibles on eBay, but during the past year I'm checking out online store Etsy. And don't forget to scour listings on Craigslist.

Since older goodies are at a premium, collectors realize it's necessary to augment vintage Halloween décor with newer items. I must say that lots of these gimcracks are amazing.

I just saw some neat skeletons at the Maids' Quarters, 36 N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos. What really caught my eye was a glittery, skull-shaped box. The dandy was outfitted in a top hat trimmed with spiders ($38).

Also available was a satin-type of headband finished with skeletons and feathers ($16), plus a huge skull grinning ear-to-ear mounted on a pedestal ($60). For details, ring up 408-395-1980.

A horror centennial

If you're going to be in the greater Los Angeles area before the end of the month, treat yourself to a stop at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to view a blood-curdling exhibit: "Universal's Legacy of Horror: A Centennial Celebration."

Rare posters, movie stills and other artifacts honor the founding of Universal Pictures, and its distinct contributions to the horror movie genre.

As part of the festivities, there will be screenings of several classic films including the spine-chilling 1925 version of "The Phantom of the Opera" with Lon Chaney.

You'll find the museum at 8949 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. Admission is free. Closed Mondays. For further details, call 310-247-3000, or see www.oscars.org.

Contact Steven Wayne Yvaska at steve.yvaska@sbcglobal.net or 750 Ridder Park Drive, San Jose, CA 95190.