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    

Vtg Postcard Halloween Red Witch & White Owl On Crescent Moon Jack O' LanternVintage Tucks Lot Of 4 Halloween Postcard Black Cat Owl Witch Bat Jack O"lanternVintage 1913 Halloween Postcard Jack O"lantern EmbossedVtg Postcard Halloween Imps & Brownies Carving Jack O' Lanterns In Forest 1911Rare Early 1914 Embossed Halloween Wish Postcard - Samuel Schmucker, John WinschVintage 1909 Halloween Postcard Black Cat Jack O"lantern Embossed GermanyVintage 1909 Halloween Postcard Skeleton Jack O"lantern Girl Embossed GermanyVintage Halloween Postcard Witch Black Cat Embossed GermanyVtg Postcard Taggart Halloween Witch Red Dress Cauldron Jol Black Cat Devils OwlHalloween Antique Vtg Postcard Moon Jol Witches Black Cats Series 383 C1910 Halloween Antique Postcard Jol Witches Black Cats Series 368 Duquesne Pa 19121911 Clapsaddle Halloween Postcard ~ Black Cat, Broom, Full Moon, Hat Great ColoHalloween Postcard Red Witch Black CatVtg Postcard Halloween Embossed Owl Yawning Moon Jack O' Lanterns Gold BorderVtg Postcard Jackson Halloween Owl Heart Gold Witch Broom Cat EmbossedVtg Postcard Halloween Owl Dangling Apple Over Jol Child In Blue Witches HatVintage 1907 Halloween Postcard Jack O LanternVtg Postcard Halloween Girl Dressed As Witch Black Dress W/ Stars Fan Mask MoonHalloween Postcard Red Witch Horse Shoe Black Cats Gourd Man In Smoke Vintage 249 Hallowe'en- Witch In Green & Red On Jol With Cat, BroomHalloween-witch & Pumpkin-riding A Broom-1909Vtg Halloween Postcard Black Cat & White Owl Cuddling In Crescent Moon, Bats Antique Halloween Postcard Witch Cat Pumpkin Embossed Rare Early Ca 1910 Embossed Halloween Beau? Holiday Postcard - Hb Grigs, #2262Halloween-whitney-witch-broom-moon-spider Webs-embossed Antique Postcard123. Halloween Post Card Cleveland Circuit RpoVtg Halloween Postcard Jack O Lantern Owl & Red Elf In Tree "goodness Dr Owl..."Vtg Postcard Halloween Sepia Owl In Full Moon, Witch Walking Thru Forest W/ CatHalloween-witch & Black Cat-see Saw-signed-1909Vintage Halloween Postcard Black Cat Jowl Witch Bat Jack O"lantern Antique Halloween Postcard 1908 Witch Embossed Ellen Clapsaddle Series 1393 Halloween Greeting PostcardHalloween Post Card-a Joyful HalloweenHalloween Greetings Postcard Card View Standard Souvenir Postal Post PcPostcard Winsch Schmucker Type Halloween Faces Girl With MasksPostcard Winsch Schmucker Type Halloween Morning Witches & Clown Flying On BatsHalloween Precautions, 1910's Embossed Postcard, Witch, Owl, Pumpkin, Etc.Vintage Lot Of 4 Postcards Halloween Greetings Warning Usa Series 363 Very Cool1924 Gnarly Witch Flying On Broom By Moon With Black Cat Halloween Postcard Vintage Tucks Halloween Postcard 1909 Witch,black Cat,broomstick,embossedVintage Series 332a Hallowe'en- Witch Tossing Blue Things, Broom, CatVtg Postcard Whitney Halloween Jol Anthropomorphic Boy W/ Owl In Tree Full Moon Two Witches Fly On This Neat Gibson Halloween Postcard Vtg Postcard Halloween Witch In Pumpkin W/ Her Cat & Owl Taggert 1908 Not PostedAntique Halloween Postcard Witch Cat Moon Pumpkin Embossed Gold Embel. Hot Air Jol Halloween Balloons Aloft Cat Bat Owl Not Mint PostcardCouple Grabbing For Hanging Apple & Candle~tuck~ser 174~halloween~1912Antique Halloween Postcard 1909 Pumpkin Embossed SignedVintage Halloween Postcard Woman Looking At Reflection Of Hers & Jol In Mirror~halloween~#2516~winsch~1907+Vtg Halloween Postcard Black Goblins Ghost, Owl, Child With Warning About SpooksVtg Postcard Halloween Witch Pointing Up W/ Broom Black Cat Owl Road Jol FieldVtg Postcard Halloween Cupid W/ Bow Arrow, Witch In Full Moon Owls Conwell #1Antique Halloween Postcard Witch Cat Pumpkin Embossed Vintage Hallowe'en Series No. 5- Children Bob For Apples, Witch In Sky, 'gold'Early Halloween Greetings PostcardRaphael Tuck Embossed Halloween Series #150 Black Cat Corners Veggie PeopleLot Of 3 Halloween Antique Postcards Brundage Clapsaddle Keyhole DamagedHalloween Antique Vintage Postcard Black Cat Jol Jack O'lantern C1910 Vintage Antique Embossed Nash Halloween Postcard Man Women On Moon Goblins