Paper Mache Pumpkins

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! My great pumpkins Charlie, are all vintage paper mache pumpkins. These pumpkins have the characteristic spooky grin and colorful, charismatic painted insert. They are oh so fragile and worn with years of spooky delight. Here are a few tidbits on the history of these ghastly grins and how to determine if they are real or reproduction. They are one of my most favorite vintage Halloween collectibles!


Fall here at the farm is a time of harvest. This is where jack-o-lanterns originated, as they were often made out of large turnips or other fruits and vegetables. In Scotland and Ireland, neighbors would hang these jack-lanterns to create a path to the harvest festival

These vegetable lanterns were given the name from a legend about a man name Jack. Legend says that when Jack died, his soul could not move on to heaven or hell, so he wandered the countryside with his vegetable lantern until Judgement day. Over time the pumpkin was substituted for the turnip and it is now what we know as the jack-o-lantern.

The earliest jack-o-lanterns of the 20th century were made out of pressed paper that had eyes, a nose and a mouth that was backed with colored paper. When the candle was put inside it grinned!

Much of the earliest Halloween decor was made in Germany, but after WWI much of Halloween decor production moved to America. In the 1930’s the beloved paper mache pumpkins were created. Jack-o-lanterns were made using pressed paper first, then to paper mache, tin and eventually plastic.

The paper mache material resembles an egg carton and they often had a tissue paper insert that was painted with the eyes, nose and mouth detail. These paper mache pumpkins are highly collectible and can often be difficult to find. Think about it this way, when you put a candle in a paper mache pumpkin, they often do not live long! The tissue paper inserts are even more rare because fire and paper don’t mix well.

Real or Repro?

Halloween reproduction collectibles are one of the most mass produced categories of all. Often times it can be very difficult to distinguish between the two because they are often handmade much like their original predecessors. One of the tell-tale ways to distinguish a reproduction – is the finish. 1930’s paper mache jack-o-lanterns often have a smooth finish. The reproductions created today have more of a crackly appearance. You can see below in this photo, the pumpkin in the middle has a much more crinkly finish than the two on the outsides.

Another characteristic to determine if it is vintage, is the lantern paper. Antique pumpkins will have lantern paper that is translucent. This helped diffuse the light from the candle. Vintage papers will also have wear on BOTH sides of the paper, whereas reproductions often have the appearance of wear on one side. True vintage paper mache pumpkins can go for a very pretty penny. I have been lucky to find a few at estate sales for lower prices, but often times they can cost in excess of $100 and more if it includes the original tissue paper insert. Jack-o-lanterns in cat shapes, witches or quirky vegetable shapes are very rare and can cost hundreds.

There is nothing more that brings me joy to see a small candle in the bottom of these classic Halloween treasures and to think to myself, “I’m so glad you never caught fire!” I hope you will be able to spot these scary pumpkins on your next treasure hunting trip and maybe someday find one for your Halloween decor!

Shop below to bring home your very own vintage paper mache pumpkin this holiday season!