A Guide To Collecting Chinese Firecrackers

This article was written and copyrighted in 1999 by fellow collector Kevin Hurt

Did you know that there are nearly 1000 Known Brands of Firecrackers! They come in thousands of sizes and variations. Chinese firecrackers first began to appear near the end of the 19th century and they are still being produced today. Although you can still buy a pack of firecrackers for fifty cents today, there are some rare, older Packs and Labels that have Auctioned off for Hundreds of Dollars!

Originally the designs on the packaging were very plain and written in Chinese. As factories in China and Macau began to produce more and more firecrackers for the U.S. Market, new designs were created with varying themes and brand names. The art work became very colorful and highly detailed. Animals of all types used to be favorite subjects and as time went on the brands sometimes reflected events occurring in our society. Currently these designs have become quite plain again with little detail or color. The value has also declined with the quality.

In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in the collecting of these old items. Lets face it, an item that was intended to be blown up is sometimes hard to find. As there are hundreds of brands (the name on the Label) of firecrackers some have proven to be quite common while others are not so easy to find. Some common brands today are Zebra and Black Cat. Some older brands that used to be common were Anchor and Rocket. Dixie Boy and Red Devil have also proved to be among the most popular brands over last 50 years.

Firecrackers as well as Packs and Labels vary in size. The most common size for firecrackers is 1 1/2". Another popular size is 7/8", which are termed "Lady Crackers". Some older Brands had 1 5/8" or 1 11/16" firecrackers. The most common pack size is a 16 count package. Some Manufacturers put special designs on their individual firecrackers such as a picture of the brand, or the brand name itself. These are seen more often before 1960, and are called Logo Crackers. The packaging material that covers the firecrackers and is under the label is a unique paper called Glassine. This wrapper is most common in red, which is currently being produced. Wrappers used to come in different colors such as White, Green, Yellow, Orange, Purple, etc. and sometimes even Clear.

Not every collector wants to collect Firecracker packs, many just collect the labels. These are easier to locate and also easier to display and store. Although there are hundreds of brands of firecrackers, many remain quite elusive. On the other hand there are some Pre-1950 brands that have become more common. The saying "supply and demand" certainly applies here. As in every hobby that deals in collectibles, the better the condition the more desirable. If a pack or label is torn, weathered or has writing on it, this detracts from the value. But having any representation of a Brand is always better than having none at all.

As far as current prices, things change fast. Do expect to pay at least $75 to $100 for a nice less common collectible item. Although occasionally you can find items close to 50 years old for $25 to $50 they are not readily available. Look for "ICC" or made in Macau and/or China. Any items marked "DOT" or UN 0336 1.4G are relatively new and have little value. This Hobby is just now catching on, so watch out things are going to change fast. These are very unique Collectibles with beautiful Art from yesteryear seldom matched. Most common Brands such as Zebra and Black Cat will never have the value of some of the less common varieties such as Tarzan or Home Run regardless of age. One reason is the common Brands were produced in multitudes and the less common Brands were not, and a once in a lifetime opportunity! You can be sure if you find any of the older less common Packs or Labels in acceptable condition you are on to something good . Another suggestion is to contact someone who deals with these items, they can readily tell you if you have found a rare Brand.

If you do decide this is the Hobby for you we suggest that you pick a Theme. This will save you time and Money. As in any Collectible/Hobby, it makes more sense to Collect only specific items rather than buy anything available regardless of availability or value. Granted certain items will always become more valuable with age but we are dealing with thousands of items here. Try to be specialized, Collect only Labels or Collect only Packs. You could even consider Collecting only items made by a certain manufacturer or a certain age Classifications or Brands. This will help you focus on what you want to buy and also make your Collection look more appealing and unique! These items should bring back childhood memories, but most importantly, be fun. You will easily find your niche. A warning: with the advent of the Color laser Copier we have found a few Old Label reproductions pasted on current Packages. Close inspection should reveal these fakes.

Finding these old Firecrackers can be very difficult, in fact downright discouraging. You are not alone when searching out these great American relics. There are literally hundreds of collectors and thousands of enthusiasts that actively participate in collecting and display of firecrackers and fireworks. Advertising always helps and you may uncover a few of these Items at Antiques, Collectibles and Toy Shows. Flea Markets and Estate Sales have also proven to uncover a some old firecrackers. Don't forget to check the grandparents attic! Remember there are many contemporary examples with very little value, in fact most Firecrackers produced after 1972 are worth less than a dollar. Remember to look for firecrackers made in China or Macau with or without "ICC" markings, stay away from "DOT" and brands with cautions and warnings. If you do come across these old gems they can be easily sold, traded or consigned as all Collectibles can be in any Hobby. The following are the current accepted general guidelines for establishing age and condition of old Firecracker packs and labels. Happy Collecting...

Class 1 (Pre-1950) "Made in China" is printed on the Pack or Label. No Cautions or Warnings will appear. Some Class 1 Packs and Labels may say "Made in Hong Kong" or "Made in Canton".

Class 2 (1950-1954) "Made in Macau" is now printed on the Pack or Label. Still no cautions or warnings will appear on the Pack or Label. Some Class 2 Packs and Labels may say "Made in Portuguese Macau".

Class 3 (1955-1968) "Made in Macau" again is printed on these Packs and Labels They are distinguished by a small box with the words "ICC" or "ICC Class C" on them. Once again no Cautions or Warnings.

Class 4 (1969-1972) "Made in Macau" once again is printed plus the "ICC" or "ICC Class C" designation on them but it will also have the words "Caution: Explosive" with the warning; "Lay on Ground, Light fuse get away. Use under Adult Supervision"

Class 5 (1973-1976) "DOT Class C" Common Fireworks is now printed on the Pack or label also with the "Caution: Explosive" etc. Warning on them. Class 5 may say "Made or Repacked in Macau" but usually "Made In China" .

Class 6 (1977-1994) Similar to Class 5 "DOT Class C" with the addition of the words "Contains less than 50mg. Flash Powder". It also has the "Caution: Explosive" etc.. Warning. Class 6 will have "Made in China" printed on them.

Class 7 (1995-Present) These Firecrackers are those currently being made today! Packs and Labels of this class have the words "UN 0336 1.4G Consumer Fireworks" Now "Warning: Explosive" etc.. appears, again "Made in China".

Condition-Grading Scale (G/S):
10 (Mint) Factory Fresh Condition, looks as if it was just made.
9 (Excellent) Close to Mint, with possible Minor Flaws or Wear
8 (Very Good) Minor Flaws and Wear with possible Fading
7 (Good) Acceptable but with noticeable Flaws, Wear or Fading
6 (Fair) Acceptable only as a representation,has distracting Flaws, Wear, Fading
5 (Poor) Unacceptable Condition with extreme Flaws, Wear or Fading.

(Flaws may include: Tears, Rips, Holes, Missing pieces, Water Damaged, Powder Damaged, Price or Writing on Label, Factory Stained or Blurred Graphics, Crooked & Offset Labels, Taped, Repaired, etc. There are a few exceptions to the aforementioned guidelines, some Firecrackers in class 5, 6, & 7 may say "Made in China" like Class 1, but have the Cautions/Warnings, etc. Firecrackers larger than 1 1/2", or made for other Countries may not conform to the above guidelines).