People love couples — romantic ones (Romeo and Juliet), funny ones (Burns and Allen), and odd ones (Oscar and Felix). In the case of Tammy Martin and Barry Koester, their couple “claim to fame” is collecting — and collecting on a wide, super-sized scale. The West Coast-based partners are both “batty” for Halloween paraphernalia, and there are nearly 1,000 items in their shared personal acquisitions.
“We are not married, but we live together and have known each other for 28 years,” Tammy, the pair’s spokesperson, states. “We both have been collecting vintage Halloween for about 15 years. When we moved in together nine years ago, we went hog wild! We have amassed about 800 items in that time.”
At the Martin-Koester manse, the Halloween articles come out to play in September, and they remain scattered about the home until November 1, the day after the Witching Hour. “We display our Halloween in the family room, living room, dining room, and kitchen. We put Halloween in cases, and on cases. It’s all over. There is not much that is not touched by Halloween when you have 900 to 1,000 items!” states Tammy.
As a duo that delights in “things that go bump in the night,” the couple swings open their front door for a Halloween open house every two years. (They alternate it with their Christmas open house.) They have had as many as 225 curiosity seekers pass through their portals.
“When we were young adults, we always had parties. As we have matured, we host open houses,” the 47-year-old confides. In addition to playing tour guide at their own home, Tammy and Barry have also had their collection on display at the McHenry Museum and Historical Society, in Modesto, Calif. “That was in 2003, and it was very small then,” Tammy explains, deadpan. “We only had a few hundred items back then.”
Over the years, Barry and Tammy have been extremely serious in pursuit of their seemingly lighthearted collectibles. “We find our Halloween all over. We shop on Ruby Lane and at flea markets, antique shops, and through friends. Starting in September, we try to go to antique shops every weekend to find Halloween.We will go as far as Oregon and Southern California. We look at eBay® several times a day,” say the Northern California residents.
All their perseverance and planning have paid off, and the pair has had great luck in locating items from the 1910s to the 1950s. Along the way, they have also discovered facts and trivia about the holiday, as well as an understanding of just how fortunate it is to find pristine, high-quality decorations.
“Most of the good Halloween items that were made came from Germany and from the United States. There was Halloween from Japan, but it tended to be of lesser quality. Halloween is celebrated in the United States, but it is not a holiday that a lot of other countries celebrate,” Tammy shares. “Everything that was made was primarily being created for the U.S. market. I love lanterns and old paper, but all old paper and antiques are fragile. We make a point to look for what is best and to buy only what is in great condition.”
Unlike many folks today who view all possessions as disposable, many households and families from 60 to 100 years ago tended to respect and protect their possessions. Because, on average, they didn’t own as much — and couldn’t afford to buy on a whim — they tended to hold on to things longer, and tried their best to keep objects in clean, usable shape.
“People saved everything in the past. It was NOT a throw-away generation,” Tammy declares. “Many times they would use and then reuse decorations. Prior to 1930, paper items were hung with string. Then, when Scotch tape came about, decorations were hung that way. The tape has ruined many decorations,” she laments.
When the couple packs away their decorations the day after the big Halloween hullabaloo, they take cautious, preserving methods. “We wrap every item in a white paper towel and pack in a plastic tub. It’s a way to let them rest and take a long nap,” Tammy jokes.
Among their many collectibles, Tammy has a soft spot for her Halloween china tea set — “I love the expression on their faces,” she enthusiastically shares. For 50-year-old Barry, the celluloid decorations come in at number one. “That was the first form of plastic, and they have a fantastic look to them. Very detailed,” the collector describes. “The celluloid items were made in the 1920s. They run in price anywhere from $100 to $500 dollars.”
Besides hunting down haunting figures and delicate ephemera, Tammy Martin and Barry Koester work together as well. Barry is celebrating his 25th year as the manager of a trucking company, and Tammy works in Human Resources and dispatches and pays bills. The couple have no children, but they see their fellow Halloween enthusiasts as a tight-knit bunch of fun, frolicking, like-minded folks.
“We have met a great many friends through Halloween and enjoy our new friendships very much. You will not meet a kinder, nicer, more unusual bunch of people,” she notes.
Though their inventory is at the “10 x 100” mark, the collectors know they are not finished with their “trick or treating.” Their hearts and their doors will open for more: “There are many items we would still love to add to our little Halloween family. We will know them when we see them.”
And, appropriately for a duo of Halloween devotees, the promise of new bounty is sure to raise their spirits.