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    

Tuck Halloween Series Postcard With Devils And Pumpkin EmbossedVintage 1909 Halloween Postard Black Cat Witch Jack-o-lanternskull Rare Early 1913 Embossed "halloween Faces" Postcard - Winsch & Schmucker1916 Rh Lord Halloween Postcard - Halloween Greetings Series 3010 Card #4Antique Tucks Embossed Halloween Postcard Jol Witch Devil Cake Vintage Old 1900s3 Vintage C.1910 Halloween O.u.kid Postcards Ex.nmHalloween October 31st Embossed Postcard With Witches, BroomsWoman In Red Dress & Man W/ Tucks Sitting On Jack O'lantern~#7035~halloween~1913Rare Antique Halloween Cat Running From Pumpkin PostcardOwl-anthropomorphic Corn Pumpkin Men-halloween Vintage Holiday Greeting PostcardAntique Halloween Postcard Embossed Owl Witch Pumpkin Frog Devils - 1909 SalemVintage Halloween Postcard1909 Vintage Halloween Postcard Raphael Tuck Series 150Vintage E.c. Banks Halloween Postcard Witch Black Cat Burning Cauldron Owl BatsVintag Wolf Ser 31, Hallowe'en: Little Girl With Mask Sees JolVintage Postcard, Halloween, Little Girl, Pumpkin, Leprahuans4 Vintage Halloween PostcardsJohn Winsch 1913 Halloween Postcard Bats Demons Full Moon3 Vintage Gottchalk & Dreyfus "oct 31st" Halloween Postcards Ex.nmVintage Halloween Postcard Dancing Boys And Girls Pumpkin LanternsVintage Clapsaddle Halloween Post Card3 Vintage Halloween Postcards Ex.nmAntique Halloween Postcard - Witch Owl Black Cat Embossed 1909 - Salem PostmarkHalloween Witch-shop Sign Prank-owl-green Cat-vintage Holiday Greeting Postcard1911 Halloween Postcard1913 Halloween Post Card - Witch, Black Cat, Jack O Lantern1911 Embossed Halloween Greeting Post Card With 6 Running Pumpkin HeadsHalloween, Black Owls, Pumpkin, Moon, Postcard, Carte PostaleVintage Halloween Postcard Black Cat Pumpkin Jack O Lantern Boy Pipe Ca 19201910 Clapsaddle Halloween Postcard - Witch And Lady, Old Style And New1910 Halloween Embossed Postcard Row Of Pumpkins Snake Scared Man WitchVintage Halloween Postcard Witch Black Cat Jack O Lanterns UnpostedAntique Halloween Postcard Moon & Creepy Pumpkins Embossed - Salem PostmarkVintage Halloween Postcard 3 Witches And Jack O Lantern Man Oct 31 SayingHalloween Black Witch, Black Cat Flying On Broom, Postcard, Carte Postale1910 Thanksgiving Postcard Girl On Halloween Jack O'lantern Pumpkin,turkey,catHalloween Postcard ~ Boy Holding Huge Pumpkin Chases Scared Little Girl & Dog1 Vintage Paper Halloween Postcard With A Black Cat And PumpkinHalloween, Withe Cat, Black Cats, Moon, Crows, Bats, Postcard Halloween, Ghost, Black Cats, Pumpkins, PostcardVintage Whitney Halloween Postcard Witches Frolic Black Cats Brooms Moon RavenEstate ~ Vintage Halloween Post Card Ghosts, Boy & Pumpkins Unposted * No DivideVintage Halloween Postcard Boy Carving Jack O Lantern Black Cat Unposted1911 Halloween Embossed Postcard Red Witch Jol Broom Owl Black Cat BatsAntique Halloween Postcard "wishing You A Jolly Halloween" Embossed 1921 PostmarAntique Halloween Postcard - "salem 1692" Flying Witch Black Cats Bats 1909Vintage Halloween Postcard Little Girl Witch Jack O Lanterns Jolly HalloweenJolly Halloween, Witch And Black Cat On The Moon, Postcard Russian Witch Baba Yaga And Skulls, Postcard, Carte PostaleHalloween, Black Witch, Smoke Skull, Fire Pot Spell, PostcardHalloween, Owls And Pumpkins, Postcard, Carte Postale, Postkarte+pc-postcard-"halloween/oct. 31/"happy Pumpkins Over The Log Fire" (b-86)Gibson Halloween Postcard - Fantasy Girl On A Broom, 2 BatsHalloween Greetings Girls Bobbing For Apples Tuck Antique PostcardEstate ~ Vintage Halloween Post Card Int. Art Pub Co. 1912 UnpostedHappy Halloween, Witch, Ghost, Owl, Pumpkin, Postcard, Carte PostaleHalloween Poem, Witch On Broom, Red Moon, Boy And Bats, Unused PostcardIt's Halloween, Fantazy, Mouse Witchcraft, Owl, Moon, Postcard, Carte PostaleHalloween, Skulls, Couple Skeleton, Postcard, Carte Postale, PostkarteHalloween Postcard 1910 With Black Cat And Pumpkin