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    

Antique New Year Postcard Vintage Halloween Moon Sending Down Baby MoonbeamsVintage 1917 Wolf Hallowe'en: Girl, Jol, Black Cat, Sgnd- Ellen ClapsaddleTo Wish You A Jolly Halloween, Witches With Jol's Back Cats,ca1915Rare Early Ca. 1909 Embossed "halloween Greetings" Holiday Postcard - SchmuckerVintage Halloween Postcard Witch On Broomstick Black CatsBoy Riding On Broom W/ Witch~full Moon~halloween~series 63 C~1907+Girl Sitting On Pumpkin Looking Into Mirror~black Cat~halloween~series 63a~1907+Vintage Halloween Postcard - Ex Cond - No Reserve-free ShippingHalloween Greetings, Pretty Witch On Her Broomstick, Full Moon, Stars, Ca1915Halloween Rppc 4 Ladies & Little Girl Holding Carved Pumpkins Photo PostcardAntique New Year Postcard 1908 Champagne Popping It's Cork To The Halloween MoonChildren Riding Cloud As Witch & Bats Fly By~a/s Mary L. Russell~halloween~1914Vintage Antique Postcard, Halloween, Mechanical, Divided BackHalloween Charms Of The Witching Hour, Owl, Witch, 19121910 Halloween Postcard By J Marks All Pretty Girls Are Witches Greenville PaAntique Halloween Greeting Witch Cauldron Frogs Holiday PostcardGirl Staring At Jol On A Stick~pooh Who's Afraid Of U~tuck~series 181~halloweenRare Early Group Of Four Halloween Holiday Postcards - Extra Fine To MintHalloween Greetings, Boy & Girl In Costumes, Holding Jol's On Sticks, Ca1915Vintage Gibson Hallowe'en: Child In Hat With Black Cat- Sngd Frances BrundageLucky Halloween, Strange Sights Are Seen, Ca1915Postcard Halloween Artist Signed Ellen H. Clapsaddle 1909Halloween Fancies, Witch In Flames, Boy & Girl Watch Fire, Black Cat, Jol,ca1915 Halloween Postcard - Witch Mixing Her Cauldron-moon-bats- 'gibson Co.' UnusedVintage J.e.p. Halloween Postcard Girl With Huge Jol Sunset TreesVintage Halloween Postcard Cat W/witches Hat, Mice, Pumpkin & Ghost Very Cute.nrGoose W/ Jol On Head~witch & Black Cat~owl & White Bat~whitney~halloween~1921The Mystic Light Of Halloween, Spooky Jol, Black Cat, Devils, 1909Vintage Postcard Halloween Hand EmbossedVintage Post Card Oh Halloween Black Cat Pumpkin1912 Joyful Halloween Postcard Demons & Jack-o-lantern In Swamp Original ColorWhitney Halloween Postcard Cute Dressed Pumpkin Girl Holds Black Cat Smiley JolAntique Halloween Postcard W/little Girl/bl.cat/witch & Matching Christmas GiftVintage Post Card A Merry Halloween Pumpkin ScarecrowHalloween Greetings, Pretty Witch, Man In The Moon, Black Cat, Ca1915Black Cat Witch And Owl Halloween Whitney Vintage Postcard C.1921Halloween Summons, Party Invite, 1923The Joys Of Halloween Be Yours, Cupid With Witch In The Moon, 1909Boy & Girl W/ Jol Pumpkins By Fireplace Mantel Candles Clock Midnight HalloweenGood Luck For Halloween, Boys Carry Huge Pumpkin. 1916Postcard Halloween Great Card 1911Postcard Halloween Witches Scottish Kilt Black Cat Moon Jack O Lantern Broom +Postcard Halloween Great Card Tuck's PostcardGood Luck To You This Halloween, Scottish Tartan Pattern Border, Bats, Ca1915Antique Postcards Birthday, Easter, Valentines, Halloween Thanksgiving Lot Of 15Four Vintage Halloween Post Cards 1908 To 19131911 Halloween Pumpkin Embossed Card 1 Cent Stamp Kansas City Postmark Lot Of 2Antique Halloween Postcard Black Cat In Witch Hat, Mice & Pumpkin Very CuteHalloween Postcard Pretty Witch Red Hat & Cape Flies On Broom W/ Jol Pumpkin Hallowe'en Greetings - Embossed1911 Halloween Pumpkin Embossed Card 1 Cent Stamp Kansas City MarkHalloween, Girl With Jol, Veggie Person Clinging To Broom, Ca1915A Halloween Greeting From, Lovely Lady With Apples. Ca1915Postcard Halloween 1928 Gibson Art Black Cat Pumpkin Person Mouse Good Wishes +Cross Brooms W/ Witch Black Cat & Jol~bat~poem~halloween~gibson Art~1914~pc 5Halloween, Boy Runs Past Scary Ghost Figures With Jol's, Black Cat, 1914Vintage Post Card Halloween Greetings Oct 31st Pumpkin Head Brownie Type Kids Running From Jol Man, Ca1915To Greet You Heartily This Halloween, Jol Head Pops Out From Back, Ca1915