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    

Vintage Halloween Postcard - Wow - Witch Flying On Broomstick - Black Cat-jolVintage Halloween Postcard - Halloween Don'ts - Black Cat, Jols, Bats, Etc.Vintage Lot Of 2 Halloween Embossed Postcards Witches On Brooms W Black CatsVintage 1913 John Winsch Halloween Embossed Postcard Jack-o-lantern Owl UnusedCharms Of The Witching Hour Vintage Halloween Postcard 1908-'13 Lot Of 5 Halloween Postcards 1 Hbg 1 Frances Brundage Signed 1 Tuck'sVintage 1913 John Winsch Halloween Embossed Postcard Girl Bats Devil UnusedHalloween Clapsaddle Black Background Little Girl Carrying Alarm Clock 1916Vintage Embossed Postcard "wishing You A Jolly Halloween" 1911 Witches Drinking Halloween Vintage Postcard Antique Postcard Album Lot Over 275 Pc's-halloween-christmas-rppc-towns-leatherVintage Halloween Postcard Ca. 1927Halloween Postcard Of Young Women Looking At Her Lover In A Mirror 1913Early Lot Of 2 Halloween Postcards Jack-o-lantern Black Cat Woman W Apples BatsGottschalk Halloween Vintage Postcard Winsch Halloween Witch Ghost Hot Air Balloon Attack Vegie People Embossed 1914Vintage Halloween Postcard Jack-o-lanterns Playing Cards Ellen Clapsaddle UnusedVintage Halloween Postcard - Witches Cauldron - Black Cat - Owl & J-o-l Vintage Halloween Postcard - Black Cats & Bats - An Inset Pumpkin Scene Vintage Halloween Postcard W/ Jack O Laterns And Girl!!!Bernnardt Wall Halloween Vintage Postcard Hallloween Pumpkin Head Children Bob For Apples Black Cat PostcardAntique Embossed Halloween Postcard Girl Fortune Teller Wand, Cards, Owl & LampRare, Halloween Postcard, "the Harvest" By Matthew Kirscht, W-sketch. Cgc ComicsHappy Halloween Vintage Postcard Antique Embossed Halloween Postcard Girl With Ghost Jack O Lantern & Black CatsThe Witching Hour Vintage Halloween PostcardGood Ghosts Walk On Halloween Vintage Postcard Rare All Halloween Witch Rides On Broom Past The Moon 19081911 Embossed Black Cat Cried To The Moon Halloween PostcardVintage Halloween Postcard Cats Beating Drum Whitney Undivided Back PostedVintage 1909 Halloween Postcard 2 Jack-o-lanterns In Balloon Ellen Clapsaddle Vintage Halloween Postcard - Little Girl Carving A Jack-o-lantern - Clapsaddle ?1911 Halloween Postcard - Black Cat -witches Hat & Broom-clapsaddleWhitney Vintage Halloween Postcard Little Girl Vintage Halloween Postcard 1910 Halloween Lady With Jack-o-lanterns PostcardVintage Halloween Postcard, Unused, Whitney MadeAntique Thanksgiving Postcard Vintage 1910 Children Rolling Halloween PumpkinVintage Halloween Postcard, Unused, Whitney Made, Pumpkins, Crows, ChildVintage Winsch Schmucker Halloween Postcard Cat Owl Bats Pumpkins 1914 #38464 Vintage 1909-1923 Halloween Postcards - One Hoffman Postcard!1922 Halloween Postcard - Mischievous Little Boy & Ugly Witch - Green Cat Vintage Halloween Postcard - Owl In Full Moon And Bats - ***l@@k***Leubrrie & Elkus Halloween Vintage Postcard Vintage Series 1238 C Hallowe'en-witch Plays Music Sitting On Branch- Cat & OwlVintage Halloween Postcard - Every Bit Of Lore - Snake,apples,black Cat,cards,E.c. Banks Vintage Halloween Postcard Whitney Vintage Halloween Postcard Frances Brundage Halloween Vintage Postcard Clapsaddle Vintage Halloween Pc Girl Red Cape Black Cat JolHalloween Postcard By Whitney "good Witch Trained Crows" Postmarked 1921Halloween - Charm Of The Witching Hour1911 Halloween Postcard - Witch W/good Luck Cauldron,black Cat, Jol, Etc. Early Halloween Postcard Fantasy Witch Jol Sickle Moon Bats Owl Black Cat Vg7633Vintage Halloween Postcard Fancies Boy Girl Jack-o-lantern Witch Aleinmüller Vintage Halloween Postcard - Fortune Telling Witch With Cards & OwlWhitney Vintage Halloween Postcard Whitney Vintage Halloween Postcard Whitney Halloween Vintage Postcard