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 - Embossed Halloween Postcard - Magic Gowned Woman - Winsch - 1912Original Samuel Schmucker, John Winsch Card, 1912, Super Image Witch On Crescent Moon With White Owl, Jol, 1910Vegetable Headed People Sitting On Jack O'lantern~merry Halloween~1907Witch With Red Lantern, Super Image, 1917Vintage Hallowe'en Wolf #501 - Little Girl, Black Cat & Jol1911 John Winsch Halloween Postcard - Sleeping Beauty W/fairy Goblins Around HerHalloween Greetings, Ghostly Jol's Witch, Bats, Black Cats, Midnight, Ca1910Three Witches Around Spooky Cauldron Halloween PostcardVintage - Embossed Halloween Postcard - Pumpkin Chasing Boys - 1909Halloween Greetings Pumpkin Ghost Owl Antique Postcard J43246Halloween Greeting, Little Girl Peels Apple & Throws Peel Over Shoulder, 1917Wall Halloween – Witch, Jol Broom, Black CatYour Fate Is In Your Own Hands, Witch With Cauldron, Ghosts, Bats, Ca1910Antique Halloween Postcard Early 1900's Jack-o-lantern Scarecrow At The Wall Beautiful Whitney Jack O Lantern Scarecrow Hard To Find Halloween PostcardDr Jim Stamps Us Halloween Witch On Broom Embossed Postcard 1909 Dayton OhioVintage Postcard Lot, Set Of Nine Halloween PostcardsHalloween Witch Sits In Lucky Horseshoe,cat,hard To Find Series,vintage PostcardHalloween Don'ts, Make A Noise Like An Owl. 1911Grace Drayton Tuck's Halloween PostcardRaphael Tuck & Sons Halloween Vintage PostcardVintage Halloween Postcard Colorized Embossed: Witch/pumpkin Head Boy/black CatWall Halloween - Black Cat, Jol, Smiling MoonH29 1908 Embossed Postcard A Jolly Halloween Witch Black Cat Jack-o-lanternsVintage Antique Halloween Postcard Circ. 1913 Embossed Witch Riding Pumpkin MoonHalloween, Witch & Ghostly Jol On Parade. 1915Antique Merry Halloween Postcard 1910 Black Cat Jack O'lanterns Ellen ClapsaddleHalloween Tucks Postcard 1911 Little Girl Candle Mirror Embossed Gold Enhanced Halloween Witch, Black Cat, Pumpkin, Owl, Bats - Whitney PostcardLeubrie & Elkus Halloween Vintage PostcardEarly Embossed Halloween Postcard Witch Bats Cats OwlVintage 1910 Farmington Iowa Pumpkin Show Postcard Halloween Rare Mt Sterling IaHalloween Vintage Postcard The Harmless Charms Witch Cauldron Pot Full MoonMay Fortunes Lantern Burn Serene As Pumpkin Lamps On Hallowe'en - Hbg 1909Victorian Postcard For HalloweenRare Early 1914 Embossed "halloween Morning" Holiday Postcard - John Winsch, PubWoman Sees Her Intended In Mirror (superstition), 2 Cards, Same Image,1910 &1924Vintage Int'l Art Pub. Hallowe'en #1238 Boy Carves Jol Sgnd: Ellen H Clapsaddle2 Halloween Cards, Greetings, Boy & Girl, Lepruchaun & Jol Man, Ca1915Antique Thanksgiving Postcard Vintage Turkey Perched On Branch & Halloween MoonVintage Antique Halloween Postcard 1910 Ymca Interscholastic Circus*rppc*university Of Illinois*devils*halloween1914 Witch On A Broom Halloween PostcardVintage Antique Halloween Postcard Ca 1910 Rare Early Halloween Holiday Postcard - Lighted Candle Mirror TrickBobbing For Apples, Little Girl With Black Cat. 1918Antique Thanksgiving Postcard Vintage 1920's Children & Big Halloween Pumpkin 1912 Halloween "don'ts" Postcard Lady Finds Lover In Mirror Candle Jol OwlsVintage Antique Halloween Postcard Vintage Antique Halloween Postcard Vintage Antique Halloween Postcard Vintage Antique Halloween Postcard Vintage Antique Halloween Postcard Vintage Antique Halloween Postcard Greetings And Good Wishes For Halloween Witch Owl Full Moon Antique Pc Z15821Vintage Antique Halloween Postcard Vintage Antique Halloween Postcard Halloween Jol Veggie People Dancing Musical Instruments Early Embossed PostcardVintage Antique Halloween Postcard