Trick or Treat!
Step into a world of spooky nostalgia as we look at the history of vintage Halloween postcards.
These delightful pieces of ephemera capture a bygone era when ghosts and goblins roamed the streets on All Hallows’ Eve. From the early 1900s to the mid-20th century, charming postcards were a popular form of correspondence, offering a glimpse into the festivities and traditions celebrated during Halloween.
Table of Contents:
– The History of Halloween Postcards
– Halloween Postcards in the Early 20th Century
– Popular Themes and Motifs in Vintage Halloween Postcards
– Collecting Vintage Halloween Postcards
– The Decline and Resurgence of Halloween Postcards
– Notable Artists and Publishers of Halloween Postcards
– Valuing Vintage Halloween Postcards
– Preserving and Displaying Vintage Halloween Postcards
– Where to Find and Buy Vintage Halloween Postcards
The History of Halloween Postcards
In the late 19th century, the popularity of postcards as a means of communication soared. Inspired by the success of Christmas and Easter postcards, publishers began producing Halloween-themed postcards to cater to the growing demand for holiday-specific greetings.
The earliest Halloween postcards can be traced back to the late 1800s, with black cats, witches, and bats often depicted as the central motifs. These early postcards were primarily printed in Germany, which was renowned for its advanced printing techniques and skilled artists.
As Halloween festivities evolved and became more ingrained in American culture, Halloween postcards gained further popularity. They became a way for friends and family to send lighthearted greetings and well wishes during this spooky season.
Halloween Postcards in the Early 20th Century
The early 1900s marked the golden age of Halloween postcards, with hundreds of designs flooding the market.
Halloween had become a commercialized holiday, and the demand for themed postcards skyrocketed. Publishers such as John Winsch, Raphael Tuck & Sons, and International Art Publishing Company produced high-quality postcards, employing skilled artists to create illustrations that captivated the recipient’s imagination.
Popular Themes and motifs in Vintage Halloween Postcards
Vintage Halloween postcards often featured a variety of both spooky and playful imagery and funny captions, capturing the spirit of Halloween in a visually appealing and entertaining way.
Black Cats and Owls
Black cats, with their association with witchcraft and superstition, were a major presence on in Halloween postcard artwork. They were often depicted in mischievous poses, adding a playful and sometimes mysterious element to the graphics.
Witches, Skeletons and Ghosts
Witches, another staple of Halloween, were commonly portrayed on postcards, either flying on broomsticks or stirring cauldrons filled with bubbling potions. Then there’s the beautiful and alluring variety of witches – more like bewitching young women wearing black or red robes and pointed hats.
Skeletons and ghosts, eternal symbols of the macabre, were also prevalent on vintage Halloween postcards. These spooky characters added a touch of fright to the otherwise lighthearted and whimsical imagery.
Pumpkins and Jack O’Lanterns
Pumpkins, with their association with harvest and the tradition of carving jack-o’-lanterns, are more commonly seen on these cards than anything else. Collectors and dealers will often use the acronym “JOL” to refer to a jack o’lantern on a vintage card.
What Exactly Are “Jack O’Lanterns”?
The name “jack-o’-lantern” has its roots in Irish folklore.
According to the legend, there was a man named Jack who was known for his trickery and deceitful nature. He managed to trick the devil on several occasions. But when Jack died, he wasn’t allowed into heaven due to his misdeeds, and the devil, upset by Jack’s trickery, refused to let him into hell.
As a result, Jack was condemned to wander the earth with only a burning coal to light his way. He placed the coal inside a carved-out turnip to serve as a lantern.
Over time, the tradition evolved, and people in Ireland and Scotland began carving their own lanterns out of turnips, potatoes, or beets. When immigrants brought the tradition to North America, they discovered that pumpkins, native to the region, were an ideal replacement for the traditional turnips.
The name “jack-o’-lantern” persisted, and the carved pumpkin became a symbol of Halloween festivities.
Weird Anthropomorphic Characters
If you want a real conversation piece, check out the absolutely weird, confusing and bizarre designs on some collectible postcards.
Anthopomorphic Halloween postcards, characterized by the weird depiction of human-like features on non-human objects like vegetables and hot air balloons, make for lots of laughter and puzzled expressions.
Knife-weilding men with watermelon bodies and grinning pumpkin heads cutting a cake? Sure, that’s a real thing. How about a pickle wearing a top hat and cuff links, strutting off into the dark? Yep, that’s a Halloween card.
Mechanical Halloween Postcards
More unusual among Halloween postcards are mechanical ones.
These are specially die cut cards with moving pieces which allow the card to animate in amusing ways. The most well known example features Ellen Clapsaddle artwork of various children dressed in a white sheet holding a jack o’lantern that moves to reveal a smiling face.
Collecting Vintage Halloween Postcards
Collecting vintage Halloween postcards has been a popular hobby for enthusiasts of both Halloween and ephemera for decades.
Many collectors have a nostalgic connection to these postcards, bringing back memories of their own childhood Halloweens past, while others are serious postcard collectors and Halloween is singled out as a particular favorite category.
The scarcity of some designs and the historical value associated with these postcards make them highly sought after by collectors. When collecting vintage Halloween postcards, it is important to consider factors such as condition, rarity, and the appeal of the artwork or artist.
Postcards in excellent condition, with minimal damage or discoloration, are generally more valuable.
Rarity also plays a significant role in determining value, with certain designs and publishers commanding higher prices due to their scarcity. The artistic quality and visual appeal of the postcard, including the composition, color palette, and level of detail, also contribute to its desirability.
The Decline and Resurgence of Halloween Postcards
As the mid-20th century approached, the popularity of Halloween postcards started to decline.
The advent of new forms of communication, such as the telephone and later, email, led to a decrease in the use of postcards for holiday greetings.
Additionally, the focus of Halloween shifted from the spooky and supernatural to a more community-centered and candy-focused holiday. People simply stopped sending as many greeting cards as they had in years past.
However, in recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in vintage Halloween postcards.
Collectors and enthusiasts are rediscovering the charm and nostalgia associated with these pieces of the past. In fact, the Henry Ford even spotlights a new tradition in Greenfield Village – a special annual holiday handout of a reproduction of a vintage card from their collection which you can view and download online.
Notable Artists and Publishers of Halloween Postcards
Several artists and publishers left a lasting mark on the world of vintage Halloween postcards. Their distinctive styles and contributions to the genre have made their postcards highly collectible and admired by enthusiasts.
Some notable artists and publishers include:
Ellen Clapsaddle (1865–1934)
Ellen Clapsaddle was a prominent artist known for her charming illustrations and use of vibrant colors – today, she’s probably the most prolific of all the Halloween postcard artists.
Clapsaddle began her career in 1906 with the Wolf Company under the International Art Company. Sadly, her story ends on a somber note – she passed away in obscurity and poverty on the eve of her 69th birthday.
Her work, often signed with a distinctive “Clapsaddle” signature, continues to be sought after by collectors. With a vast portfolio that includes over 3,000 designs, Clapsaddle postcards are some of the most easily found on the market. Her designs now fetch anywhere from $5 – $200, with the more unusual mechanical cards reaching into the hundreds.
Samuel L. Schmucker (1879–1921)
Another highly collected artist is Samuel Schmucker.
Despite partial paralysis from childhood polio, Schmucker pursued an artistic career. He began as a commercial artist in 1905 and his success with fashion illustrations led to collaborations with the Detroit Publishing Company, producing 52 postcards across 8 sets. This achievement paved the way for designing numerous holiday postcards for the John Winsch Company, featuring his wife as the Winsch Girl.
His unique style blended the American Brandywine tradition with European Art Nouveau. Schmucker, moving to Wilmington in 1910 and later to New York in 1913, continued creating postcard designs until 1917, when he took on an accounting job for financial stability.
Schmucker’s Halloween postcards often featured sexy witches, black cats, and pumpkins. His detailed and colorful designs contributed to the postcard craze, making his work highly collectible today.
Frances Brundage (1854–1937)
A prolific artist known for her charming portrayals of children, Frances Brundage had a remarkable career spanning 65 years. Specializing in illustrations, she created over 200 books and gained recognition for her work with Raphael Tuck & Sons, Samuel Gabriel Company, and Saalfield Publishing.
Brundage, taught art by her father Rembrandt Lockwood, started illustrating at seventeen due to family challenges. Beyond ephemera, she contributed to children’s classics and literary collections. Even in her late 60s, she produced up to twenty books annually, leaving behind a highly collectible body of work.
John Winsch (1851–1920)
John O. Winsch, a significant publisher of artist-signed and holiday cards, gained prominence for their Halloween and Thanksgiving designs.
Collaborating with European artists, including names like Samuel L. Schmucker and Fred Kolb, Winsch produced nearly 4,000 unique card designs, often issued in sets.
While most cards were made in Germany, some were printed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Notably, many cards lack the firm’s name but share a distinctive graphic design on the backs.
Unfortunately, other publishers mimicked this design, aiming to mislead customers and capitalize on Winsch cards’ higher prices. Winsch co-managed the Art Lithographic Publishing Company in 1915, and while the exact tenure is uncertain, he resumed publishing postcards under his own name after World War I until around 1925.
Raphael Tuck & Sons
Like Ellen Clapsaddle postcards, a name seen more often than almost any other on vintage Halloween postcards is that of Raphael Tuck.
A pioneering force in the postcard industry, Raphael Tuck & Sons, founded in the 19th century, earned acclaim for their innovative lithographic techniques and artistic designs.
Renowned for their “Artistic” series which can be identified by the notation printed on the backs of their cards, these postcards featured intricate illustrations, often depicting landscapes, holidays, and charming scenes.
Tuck’s quality craftsmanship and huge variety of imaginative designs contributed to the widespread popularity of their postcards, making them a major player in the Golden Age of postcards.
Gibson and Co.
This Cincinnati, Ohio, company emerged as a printing business in the mid-19th century. As the 20th century approached, Gibson adopted a unique approach by collaborating with individual artists for their holiday cards. Notable talents like Bernhardt Wall and Kathryn Elliott were among the artists contracted by Gibson and Co. Their distinct designs, especially popular during Halloween, are easily recognizable and widely circulated.
Freixas (the spelling of his name can vary on different cards) was an artist with a bit of mystery around him. We don’t know much about his life, when he was born or when he passed away. His Halloween cards for John O. Winsch are quite popular among collectors. He often drew children (many of them rather funny looking, with wideset eyes and big heads) and some of his work looks a bit like Grace Drayton’s.
Other publishers copied his work, so you’ll find variations of the same basic pictures on different postcards, but their quality wasn’t as good as his originals.
Valuing Vintage Halloween Postcards
Valuing vintage Halloween postcards requires consideration of several factors. As with any collectible, the condition of the postcard is crucial in determining its value.
Postcards that have been well-preserved, with no tears, stains, or significant wear, are more desirable to collectors.
Whether a postcard has been mailed or not doesn’t always affect the value. While many collectors prize a pristine, unused postcard, others actually collect those with themed messages on the reverse. Lots of vintage Halloween postcards will have handwritten “Happy Halloween” messages on the reverse, along with postal cancellations dated October 31.
How Much are Vintage Halloween Postcards Worth?
The prices can vary dramatically. Very common, mass produced cards often regularly sell in the $7 – $15 range – names you’ll see associated with these are usually Clapsaddle and Tuck.
On the high end, exceptionally rare and desirable Halloween postcards have sold in the hundreds of dollars.
Preserving and Displaying Vintage Halloween Postcards
For original postcards, proper storage is also essential to prevent damage.
Acid-free sleeves or archival-quality albums can help protect rare or extremely valuable cards from environmental factors that may cause deterioration. Keeping postcards away from direct sunlight and extreme temperatures is also important in preserving their condition.
The more casual collectors often enjoy integrating vintage Halloween postcards into their home decor during autumn. In the digital age, many people share images of these cards on social media as a modern way of extending their greetings to friends and followers.
Serious, longtime collectors will carefully store special cards away in albums, or may display favorites in a shadow box or frame.
“I always love having the chance to get my Halloween postcards out in October to display them around the house,” says Shelly, a collector and auction consignor, “it seems sad to let them sit in the dark of a postcard album year round.”
Where to Find and Buy Vintage Halloween Postcards
Finding and purchasing vintage Halloween postcards can be an exciting adventure. Online marketplaces and auction websites often have a wide selection of postcards available for purchase. Antique stores, flea markets, and postcard fairs are also great places to find cards.
Some of our favorite venues for vintage postcards include:
When buying vintage Halloween postcards, it is important to carefully examine the condition and authenticity of the postcards.
Why authenticity? Because Halloween postcards are one of the most often reproduced postcards out there. So many of these classic designs have been repurposed on new cards, pillows, mugs and posters today that new collectors may have a hard time distinguishing genuine from repro.
It is also helpful to do a bit of research to familiarize yourself with the different publishers and artists to better understand the value and significance of the postcards you come across.
Conclusion: Happy Haunting, Collectors!
As collectors and enthusiasts continue to trade and rediscover the charm of vintage Halloween postcards, these greetings from the past continue to fascinate and delight. Whether you are drawn to their artistic appeal, cultural significance, or simply the joy of collecting, vintage Halloween postcards serve as a tangible link to a bygone era.
At Britannic Auctions, we’re also hooked on the allure of vintage Halloween postcards, and our online auctions provide a lively platform for collectors to trade and discover the enchanting charm locked within these historical gems. Explore the potential value of your collection with our free appraisal service, turning your nostalgic cards into bewitching delights.