George Moyer is ranked among the world’s foremost collectors of fireworks-related items.
A lifelong resident of Pottsville,
Pennsylvania, and the owner of a local amusement machine business,
he began collecting ephemeral but visually appealing firework
packets in the early 1970s at the age of 10.
"I spotted a label on a pack where some boys
were shooting off firecrackers. I picked it up and thought it was
neat, so I started saving more labels the same way, looking for
them where kids were shooting them off," he said.
At the time there was no organised group of
collectors or publications devoted to the hobby. But 'pyromaniacs'
- as these lovers of things that go pop and boom in the night like
to call themselves - found each other through the small ads or
would run into each other at antiques or toy fairs, associations
that in time became a small trading group and then a collecting
Supply was difficult - and not just because
it is illegal to sell fireworks in some states. It was, said Moyer,
the internet that "opened up the whole hobby". With thousands of
items in his arsenal from which to choose, in 2000 he co-authored
the collecting tome Firecrackers - The Art &
But, last month, it was time to light the
blue touch paper and retire.
Two weeks in advance of this year's Fourth
of July celebrations, the George Moyer collection of antique and
vintage fireworks, plus associated advertising posters, trade
catalogues and consumer novelties, was sold in more than 1300 lots
by Morphy's of Denver, Pennsylvania, on June
England, India, China and the United States
were the major producers/consumers of fireworks prior to 1960 (the
cut-off date for most serious collectors).
Some of the earliest items contained in the
collection were intact Chinese black powder firecrackers from the
19th century but - partly because vintage fireworks are usually
defused to avoid legal tangles or fire hazard - it is labels rather
than contents that really appeal.
Above: the top lot of the sale, a
salesman's sample board containing 20 sample firework packs, took
The more colourful and exciting the graphics
the better and, as with other areas of the advertising/toy market,
the real money is in finding the example that was never used. It
almost goes without saying that some of these cheap thrill 'penny
packs', made in China for the English-speaking market, cost as
little as one cent when first sold in the inter-War years.
The majority of packets and labels can be
bought for under $200 but there were over 40 in the sale, embracing
themes from sci-fi hero Buck Rogers to Niagara Falls, which sold
for individual prices of $1000 or more.
They included a 40-piece pack of
'supercharged flashlight crackers' made in China for Balfour
Guthrie & Co, San Francisco, with a depiction of open-wheel
racers, sold at $3250 (£2165) and a packet of 32 Tally Ho!
Firecrackers made in Canton by To Yiu and adorned with a scene of
the hunt in the British countryside sold at $2750 (£1835). The
sometimes unlikely and visually naive imagery only adds to their
A pack that may be the only one of its type
contained 14 Crax Boy Loudest Flashlight Crackers. Executed in
appealing primary colours, the label (it probably should have read
Crazy Boy) featured a knock-off character nearly identical to one
used extensively in the US at the time to advertise Whitman's
Sampler confectionary. Instead of chocolates, this 'Crax Boy'
delivers packets of fireworks. Estimated at $500-$1000, this pack
was bid to $2500 (£1670).
As a whole, the collection totalled $365,000
The buyer's premium was 20%.