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”)



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    

Old Postcard Halloween Greetings Witch Moon Pumpkin 1922 BroomGirl Holding Jol W/ Two Black Cats ~jack O'lantern Border~whitney~halloweenBlack Cat, Witch Hat Broomstick Full Moon Halloween Clapsaddle Vintage PostcardVintage 1912-1916 Halloween Holloween Ghost Ghouls Spirit Costume Mask Old PhotoBlack Cat Tied To Toadstool, Witch Cuts String With Scissors, Ca1918Halloween Postcard 1927 Postmark " A Jolly Halloween" Little Boy & Giant PumpkinMan Tips Hat W/ Beard To Jack O'lantern Man~black Cat~gibson~halloween~1907+Halloween Night, Children Frightened By Witch/ghost Scarecrow, Tuck, Ca1910Halloween Postcard Taggart Ser. 803 Witch Broom Full Moon Black Cats Jol C1910sHalloween Embossed Postcard Gremlin Flying Black Cat Skeleton Jols C1910s UnusedVintage Embossed Halloween Postcard Pumpkin Head Gentleman Cats Divided EraHalloween Greetings Little Boy Cleaning Pumpkin Postcard 1922Tumbling Clown, Witch, Cobweb, Nice Graphics, Ca1920Mrs. Jol, Sits By Her Husband's Tombstone, Ca1918C1912 Raphael Tuck & Son Halloween Postcard, Hugh Jol, Children, EmbossedWitch Sitting W/ Jol Ghost & Black Cat On Broom~full Moon~gibson~halloween~1907+Vintage Halloween Postcard Series No. 2 Witch Black Cat Silver Precautions Vintage Halloween Postcard Series 1238 Lucky Kitty Pretty Witches ArmsHalloween Greetings - Ghosts And Witches C1910Jack O'lanterns Tombstone, Mrs. Jack Mourns, Owl/raven, Black Cat, Ca1918Lot Of 2 Halloween Postcards Nash H14 Intl Art Heinmuller Witches Black Cat DmgdAntique Halloween Postcard Ellen Clapsaddle 1911 Charming! L@@k!Vintage Halloween Greetings Postcard Bobbing For Apples Pumpkins Divided PostedVintage Halloween Postcard Whitney Black Cats On Fence Jol Full Yellow Moon1910 Halloween Greeting Postcard Frightened Child & PumpkinsJack O'lantern Man Giving Jol Man Piggy Back Ride~gibson~halloween~1913Halloween, Jol Scarecrow Frightens Farmer's Wife, Ca1918Witch, Jol, Black Cat On Parade, Halloween Greetings, Ca1918Halloween John Winsch 1914 Embossed Post Card Owl Bat Witch Clown Vintage Halloween Postcard Series No. 2 Witch Black Cat Jol Seeds Witches Dwell Vintage Halloween Postcard From C.1918! Fa Owen No. 858, Bats1910s Halloween Greeting Postcard Witch & Jack O Lantern As-isHalloween-child-prank-ghost-children-window-embossed Antique PostcardAntique Easter Postcard Vintage Early 1900's Bunnies With Full Halloween MoonHalloween Postcard Jol Head & Witch On See-saw International Art Pc 1908 CancelLady Jol-witch On Halloween Postcard C1910 Schmucker-whitneyHalloween Postcard Nash H-17 Witch On Broom W/ Geese, Black & White Cats 1914Best Wishes For Halloween Candle Witch Black Cat Pumpkin Moon Vintage PostcardWhitney Halloween Postcard Little Girl Witch Afraid Of Spooks Are You? Black CatWhitney Halloween Postcard Witch Black Cat Owl Jol's Greetings Dame FortuneVintage Halloween Post Card Ghostly Jol's Black Cats Full Moon Witch Ca 1909Vintage Happy Halloween Postcard Jack-o-lantern Driving Automobile Car Rhyme Vintage Halloween Postcard Witc & Cat On Broom The Witch City Salem Mass CardHalloween Greetings, Tiny Witches Dance Around Young Lady, 1918Black Cat Cooking Something Up In A Pumpkin, Mice Dance Around, Ca1918Jol With Girl Face On Halloween Postcard C1908 Clapsaddle-wolf Hallowe'en Devil With Veggie Man ~ Tuck Ser. 150 ~ Vintage PostcardVintage Halloween Postcard Candle Pumpkin Owl Rhyme O.u Kid Listen Little OneVintage Halloween Postcard Scared Boy Reading Ghost Stories Jol BrotherVintage Jolly Halloween Postcard Boy In Witches Hat Broom Pumpkin Divided EraOh! The Joy, The Bliss Of Halloween, Boy Scares Girl Looking In Mirror,tuck,1918Frightened Girl On Halloween Postcard C1908 Clapsaddle-wolfGirl In Costume On Halloween Postcard C1910 Schmucker-whitneyGreen Jol Gets Carved On Halloween Postcard C1912 Scared Boy In Pumpkin Batch Halloween Vintage 1910 Rafael Tuck PostcardVintage Halloween Postcard: Two Black Cats, Witche Hats, Full MoonVintage Halloween Postcard International Art Pub. Boy Girl Kissing Over Jol1911 Antique Embossed Halloween Postcard Woman & Reflection In Mirror 1912 Halloween Postcard, Series No.6 Jack O Lantern, Bats, Witches, Color LithoAntique Christmas Postcard Early 1900's Santa In Green Suit Halloween Black Cat