Halloween has its roots in an ancient Celtic festival called Samhain, celebrating the end of summer. The night marking the change of season from summer to winter, the beginning of the Celtic New Year, was supposedly filled with magic. On this day, ghosts and demons were free to roam the earth, so villagers would wear ghastly costumes to fool the spirits and make food offerings to the dead.

These pagan celebrations were adapted by the Catholic church as All Souls Day and All Saints Day. The night before All Saints Day would be called “All Hallows Eve,” then “Hallowe’en.” In the 19th century, Irish immigrants brought renewed interested in Hallowe’en to the United States, with masquerades, house-to-house visits, and the jack o’ lantern, based on a myth about a soul trapped on earth who was given the burning embers of hell to light his way.

But it was the Victorians who homogenized diverse Halloween traditions in middle-class England and America. For them, it became a genteel holiday about romance, parlour games, and child’s play. Even ghost stories were softened into tales of passion, as members of high society competed to one-up each other with their Halloween parties.

The late 1800s also marked the beginning of the “golden era” of postcards, which were the text messaging or social media of the day—people sent these cheap greetings for any reason, particularly holidays. This trend lasted until around 1918.

Turn-of-the-century Halloween postcards featured cute, fat jack o’ lanterns topped with equally adorable chubby-cheeked children. Black cats, which used to be burned at Christian festivals for being “witches familiars,” were also cuddly icons of these cards, while the witches were often depicted as very pretty ladies bringing messages of love.

The most beautiful and most collected Halloween postcards were published by John O. Winsch of New York between the years of 1911 and 1915. Winsch used heavy, rich inks and embossing on his cards, and sent them to Germany to be printed. Some appeared in sets of six, but most came in sets of four. Some of these postcards had booklets attached, and still others had die-cuts. Thanks to the Payne-Aldrich Act, which increased the tariff on imported cards, Winsch cards were two for a nickel, while cards printed in America only cost a penny.

The most collected Winsch “Hallowe’en” postcards were the artist-signed postcards designed by American artist Samuel L. Schmucker, who painted beautiful women in lush, bright colors, signing some of his artwork with the monogram “SLS.”...

The Edwardian romanticism is obvious in the accompanying verses. Winsch cards might say things like, "On Halloween, take the seeds from a Pumpkin, place them in front of the sofa in the form of a cross – then the Witches won't bother you. That's a hard name to call ma and pa but they were young themselves once and won't mind it." Or, "On Halloween, Goblins have been known to fly away with Fair Maidens. Therefore 'tis best to have some one hold you and tightly, too, -- because Goblins are strong."

One particularly popular superstition for romantic Halloween cards shows a young woman looking into a mirror at the stroke of midnight to see the face of her true love, using the light of a jack o’ lantern. At times, she is pictured looking into a hand mirror at a larger mirror over her shoulder, and other times, she is looking directly into the larger mirror, as the specter of her future husband hovers over her shoulder.

Jason Frexias, meanwhile, produced holiday cards for Winsch with round-faced toddlers with starfish hands. Because Frexias did not copyright his work, his images would be copied. An illustration of a child originally perched on a jack o’lantern would be lifted and placed on an Easter egg or a heart for a Valentine’s Day card. These knockoff illustrations, which Frexias was not paid for, lack the detail of the original. It’s particularly obvious with European holiday cards that pirated Frexias designs, where you can see the child still holding the lid of a jack o’lantern, while sitting on a flaming Valentine heart.

Ellen H. Clapsaddle, one of the most prolific American postcard artists of the era, produced some of the most collectible Halloween cards today for Raphael Tuck and Sons, International Art Publishing Company, and Wolf Publishing Company, a subsidiary of Inter-Art that Clapsaddle launched herself. Her style is distinct, particularly her illustrations of children.

H.B. Griggs is another highly collectible holiday postcard artist, although so little is known about Griggs it is unclear whether the illustrator was a man or woman. Griggs, using the signature H.B.G., published almost exclusively for Leubrie and Elkus of New York.

Grace Gebbie Drayton, known for her iconic Campbell’s Kids, made Halloween cards for Raphael Tuck and Sons showing the similar big-eyed chubby-cheeked kids. Comic-strip artist Clare Victor Dwiggins made a gorgeous set of unsigned Halloween cards in fantasy style featuring a beautiful “witching queen” presumably based on his wife, who was often a model for the lovely ladies on his cards.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Carthalia

Carthalia

Andreas Praefcke's postcard collection of theatres and concert halls worldwide. Showcases 3700 images of over 1810 … [read review or visit site]

Tall Tale Postcards

Tall Tale Postcards

Don't let this one get away from you. This 'unbelievable' collection, from the Wisconsin Historical Society, featur… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage Postcard Halloween Girl Witch Pumpkins Broom Whitney Made Vintage Clapsaddle Halloween Postcard Owl Sitting On Jol International Art 4439Vintage M.l. Jackson, Copyright Halloween Postcard, Postmarked 1915, Cat, Witch 1 Card Lot, Hallowe'en, Artist C.b.t., Witch Loses Broom, Full Moon, Tuck #181!1917 Whitney Halloween Postcard Black Boy, Girl, Jackolantern Black Cats, Witch Vintage John Winsch Halloween Postcard Girl In Sky With Devils & Bats Antique "winsch Back" Embossed Postcard "the Magic Halloween" *germany*Vintage 1910 Halloween Postcard Vegetable Head, Sprite Elf, Witch #10281 Card Lot, Hallowe'en, Tuck #174, Boys At Gate, Jol's Faces! 1910Flying Halloween Pumpkins Postcard, Girl Enticing Bewitched Pumpkins To FollowOld Halloween Postcard ( Raphael Tuck & Sons ) 1916Halloween Postcard Black Cat Bat, Jack-o-lantern, Corn, Early 1900 Embossed VintHalloween Card Gibson Girl With Black Cats And Jack-o-lantern Gibson Art, Cin1908 Raphael Tuck Halloween Postcard W Jol Pumpkin Men Eating CakeHtf!! Vintage Whitney Halloween Invitation Postcard Black Spider WebOld Halloween Postcard ( Raphael Tuck & Sons ) 1916Halloween Witch On Broom~bats Yellow 4 Of 4~langsdorf~htf Vintage Gel PostcardHalloween Postcard Gibson Ga3-10 Hand Painted Witch Fantasy Greeting Vintage Antique "winsch Back" Embossed Postcard "halloween Jollity" *germany*Htf!! Vintage Whitney Halloween Invitation Postcard Black Cat, MoonVintage Halloween Postcard!Vintage 1922 Posted Halloween-embossed ??? Gold Trim Witch Cat 4 Antique Halloween Postcards, Whitney, Tuck, International Art Publishing Co. Halloween Postcard Nash 21-a-2 Witches Fantasy VintageHalloween Postcard Nash 9-3 Witch Elves Imp Dwarf Fantasy H.g.w. Quote VintageG4624 Rare Gibson Halloween Postcard, Witchs, Fire, Smoke, Unused, Excellent1922 Antique Halloween Postcard /masquerade Party Invitation - Witch & MoonVintage R Tuck Halloween Postcard Series #150 Pumpkin People Witch ChasingAntique Post Card Joyous Halloween Black Cat Pumpkin Serie 9422 Germany EmbossedVintage Halloween Postcard 1936 Black Cat Witches Hat Whitney Made Kendall, Mi2 Non Pc Die Cut Pop Up Halloween CardsEarly Rppc Young Woman Witch Hat + Broom Halloween Postcard Rp Real PhotoHalloween-black Background Unsigned Clapsaddle-boy On Wagon With Jol2 Halloween Postcards-divided-witches-black Cats-bats-moon-broom-jol-embossedVintage Clapsaddle Halloween Postcard Little Witch In Jol International Art 1667Halloween Postcard 1908 Halloween Black Cat Gourds In Watermelon Tuck Series 150Postcard Halloween Tucks Black Cat Three Pumpkin People 1908 Embossed Moon MoreRare Lim Ed Matthew Kirscht Halloween Postcard Strum16/20 With Vol. 5 Book Only!Vintage Hallowe'en- Nash # H-12 Gremlins, Witch, Lady & ManHalloween Postcard. Circa 1910~witches Ride Flying Machine~h.b. Griggs Artist.Hallowe'en Embossed Postcard - Witch On A BroomHeavy Embossed Antique Halloween Post Card Owl & Witch Hallowe'en PrecautionsAntique Post Card Halloween Pumpkin E Weaver Pleasures Greetings Near MintOld Halloween Postcard ( Wolf Co.) 1921Vintage 1910 Halloween Postcard Beautiful Masked Woman Black Cat Young Girl Teddy Roosevelt Jack O'lantern Halloween Postcard Pair Gd&d1910 Clapsaddle Halloween Postcard - Signed On Jol Girl Pumpkin -wolf Co # 501 Halloween Postcard - Gold Leaf Big Punkin Head Lady W/ Cat - Dated Oct 29 1917Halloween Postcard Metropolitan News 1275-2 Ghost Woman Jol Owl Vintage FantasyOld Halloween Vintage Postcard - 2 Witches, Owl & Full Orange MoonHalloween Pumpkin Headed Lady In Kimono 1911 Embossed Very Crisp Clean CardStecher Halloween Greetings Child In Pajamas Carrying Cat Hanging Jack-o-lantern1906 Real Photo Postcard White Face - Haunted Clown - HalloweenEmbossed Antique Halloween Post Card Witch Black Cat Jol Hallowe'en Series #5Raphael Tuck Halloween Witch Chasing Vegetable Pumpkins Embossed PostcardHalloween - Woman Peeling Apple - Black BatsOld Halloween Postcard ( Wolf Co.) 19222 Antique Halloween Greetings Postcards Raising Cain & Mystical PumpkinHalloween Greetings Girl Wearing Witch Costume Holding Lucky Black Cat Stecher "winsch Halloween Post Card Check List" Many Cards & 1994 Revised Price List