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    

Halloween Witch W/ Jol, Fairy, Owl, Black Cats Valentine & Sons Htf Old PostcardHalloween Black Cat Witch Riding Jol W/ Owl & Bat - Valentine Sons Htf PostcardHalloween Jol Men Slicing Cake - Valentine & Sons - Scarce Old Postcard Vintage 1923 Tuck Embossed Halloween Postcard Devils And Pumpkin Series 160(scarce) Antique Vintage 1911 Embossed Halloween Postcard By John Winsch Halloween 1908 Postcard Tuck, Witch, Broom, Black Cat, Devil With Pitchfork EtcOriginal Antique Vintage 1912 John Winsch Schmucker Embossed Halloween PostcardHalloween 1911 Postcard Samuel Schmucker Winsch Halloween TimeHalloween-raphael Tuck Series No.150-watermelon Witch Car-black Cat-jol 3jh79Lot Of 17 Old Halloween Post CardsVtg Halloween Postcard Embossed Witch On Giant Bat Jol Postally UnusedVtg Halloween Postcard Embossed Clapsaddle Black Cat On FenceHalloween 1910 Postcard The Halloween Spirit Witch In Red, Broom, Black Cat EtcEmbossed Card, "oct.31st, A Jolly Hallowe'en". Lots Of Owls & Witch With Broom.Vintage Hallowe'en # 1238-embossed- Boy & Scarecrow Sgnd: Ellen H. ClapsaddleHalloween Girls Black Cats Flying Witches - Valentine & Sons - Htf Old PostcardVintage Antique Embossed Halloween Postcard Unused 1900s Witches Laughing MoonHalloween-man In Moon-witch On Broom-stars-sb S.76 3jh78Vintage Nash Ser. H-12 Hallowe'en-embossed-woman In White, Gremlins & WitchesHalloween Witch Jol Black Cat Full Moon - Valentine & Sons - Htf Old PostcardVtg Halloween Postcard Embossed Clapsaddle Jol Pumpkins In Airship 1910Vintage Tuck Halloween Postcard Witch & Black Cat Children Playing 1910Antique Tuck Halloween Postcard ~ Witch & Black Cat Prowl Under A Full Moon!Vintage Antique Rust Craft Lithograph Halloween Postcard Unused 1912 Number 565Halloween 1910 Postcard 'tis Halloween, Witch, Owl, MoonHalloween Greetings Black Cat Witches Holiday Postcard Post MarkedFor Halloween Old Style And New Ellen Clapsaddle Witch And Modern Girl Antique Tuck Halloween Postcard ~ Devils Prance In Jack-o-lantern Steam!Vtg Halloween Postcard Embossed Witch Owl Brewing Luck Charm 1911Vtg Halloween Postcard Embossed Witch, Pumpkin Boy, Black Cat Unused Keyhole(scarce) Antique 1910 Embossed Halloween Postcard By J. Marks3 Early Different Halloween Postcards Witch, Jack O'lantern, Black CatsVtg Halloween Postcard Pc Boy W/white Hood&mask Riding Pumpkin Signed HeinmullerAntique Halloween Postcard -- Winsch / Schmucker -- 1913 -- 450/i; No. 3847Antique Gel-coat Halloween Postcard ~ Witch Sails Past The Moon!Vintage Winsch Freixas Halloween Postcard Little Girl Witch Jol Excellent UnusedVtg Halloween Postcard Embossed Lovers Mirror Fate, Party Invite On Back 1911Vtg Halloween Postcard Embossed Jol Haystacks Moon By Wall 1909Halloween Postcard! Genuine Antique~ghost Jol's, Witch, Black Cats~must See!Antique Tuck Halloween Postcard ~ The Red Devil Paints A Menu!Vtg Halloween Postcard Girl Witches Colored Over Photo Card 1919Two Vintage Chromolithographic Greetings: Valentine & Halloween, 1910? Frances Brundage Artist Signed Halloween-jol-black Cat-child-gibson 120 3jh81Vtg Halloween Postcard Embossed Girl & Boy Black Cat Party Scene UnusedFlying Rabbit Halloween, Installment Postcard-hand Painted-sandy Waters-witchVintage Hallowe'en-wolf #31 Blindfolded Boy Blows Out Candles; JolYe Halloween Greetings Jol Elves Airbrushed Embossed Postcard 19102 Vintage 1900's Halloween Greeting Cards 2lzEarly Halloween Postcard Jack O Lantern Pumpkin Black Cat Broom Ellen ClapsaddleB. Wall 1909 Halloween Postcard Witch Pulled By Black Cats Green Moon Scary JolOld Halloween Pumpkin Girl Whitney Made Black Cat Hat Broom Anthropomorphic 1913 E. Nash Halloween Pc H-14 Girl Fortune Teller Owl Cards Wand Oil LampHalloween Postcard-embossed-2 Girls Trying To Keep Witches Out.1908 Embossed Tucks Postcards Hallowe'en Lot Of Two1909 Embossed Tuck Sons Halloween Post Card Series No 160 Owl Devils Witch JolRppc Actual Witches~impromptu Coven Meeting Re: Halloween~vintage Photo PostcardAntique Halloween Merry Halloween Series 978"hallow -e'en" Embossed Postcard Dated 1911Vtg Halloween Postcard Embossed John Winsch Witch GoblinsHalloween-little Girls Dressed As Witches-kansas C1915 Rppc Photo Postcard Ks