Preparing for Halloween is a time filled with excitement and creativity. I vividly remember decorating our house with cobwebs, carved pumpkins, and spooky adornments. The scent of fresh pumpkins and the rustle of fake spider webs created an eerie yet cozy atmosphere. As we planned our costumes, the house was buzzing with creativity. Thrift shop visits and hours of sewing were all part of the joy of designing our outfits. But did you know it took thousands of years for Halloween to develop into traditions and customs that we celebrate today?
The Evolution of Halloween
Halloween dates back thousands of years to the ancient Celtic celebration of Samhain (pronounced “sow-in”). Samhain marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. In the 7th century, the Catholic church established November 1 as All Saints’ Day to honor the Christian saints. Then, partly to replace the Celtic festival of Samhain, the church also designated November 2 as All Souls’ Day. Over time, these Christian observances and the Celtic festival of Samhain commingled and evolved into the modern holiday known as Halloween, the eve of All Saints’ Day. Halloween celebrations were extremely limited in early America, but they were popularized in the mid-19th century.
Tracing Halloween Through Vintage Postcards
As Halloween gained popularity nationwide, a new and intriguing tradition took shape: the exchange of Halloween postcards. These postcards became charming mediums for sharing holiday greetings. They often showcased whimsical illustrations featuring witches on broomsticks, eerie black cats, glowing jack-o’-lanterns, and other captivating Halloween motifs. The years 1900 to 1920 marked the heyday of Halloween postcards. During this period, millions of cards were produced and circulated among friends and loved ones.
The graphics on Halloween postcards often offer clues, threading together a visual timeline through the evolution of the holiday. For example, although Halloween’s traditions may seem commonplace now, it’s worth noting that the holiday’s contemporary character, the jack-o’-lantern, is a recent development.
The use of the jack-o’-lantern’s image originated from the Old Irish folklore of Stingy Jack. The Irish referred to the character as “Jack of the Lantern”—eventually shortened to “Jack-o’-Lantern”—and carved faces into turnips as Stingy Jack carved out a turnip to place burning coal inside, says the legend. When Irish immigrants came to America, they brought this tradition with them. Because pumpkins were reportedly more readily available than turnips, these gourds were adopted for carving jack-o’-lanterns.
The Value of Vintage Halloween Postcards
Vintage Halloween postcards have become prized collector’s items, often commanding high value in today’s market. Collectors can refer to specialized price guides, seek out expert dealers, and attend postcard exhibits to explore and trade these nostalgic treasures. Beyond their charm, these postcards offer a glimpse into Halloween’s evolving history, providing a fascinating snapshot of a holiday amid transformation.
Multiple factors influence Halloween postcards’ value, including their artistic designs. Collectors favor postcards featuring classic Halloween subject matter—especially if the imagery is intricate—like witches, black cats, or spooky scenes. Several artists and illustrators gained fame for their contributions to vintage postcards, and their work can be more collectible. Some of the notable ones are:
- John Winsch: An American postcard published, Winsch often featured the work of various artists on his cards, and he is known for their colorful and charming designs. In 2021, this antique 1915 John Winsch “Girl with Halloween Lantern” postcard was sold for $159.16 on eBay.
- Louis Wain: Known for his whimsical cat illustrations, Wain graced many postcards with his work during the early 20th century. In 2011, this black cats postcard was sold for $99.99 on eBay.
- Frances Brundage: She created postcards with endearing depictions of children, often featuring rosy-cheeked youngsters. In May 2022, this rare, complete set of five Frances Brundage postcards commanded $250.00 on eBay.
- Raphael Tuck & Sons: This British publishing company produced high-quality postcards featuring various artists’ work. Highly sought after, these prints can command a high selling price. In 2008, this vintage Halloween postcard by Tuck & Sons was sold for $935.00. Complete sets are worth even more, like this set of twelve Halloween postcards sold for $1,600 in 2019.
- Ellen H. Clapsaddle: She was a prolific postcard artist known for her charming and sentimental illustrations, often featuring children and holiday designs. In 2023, this jolly Halloween boy postcard was sold for $499.99 on eBay.
Age, Complete Sets, and Condition
There are other key factors influencing the pricing of Halloween postcards. Age plays a significant role, with older postcards generally fetching higher prices due to their increasing rarity. Rarity is pivotal, and uncommon postcards found in sets are often more valuable. For example, in 2019, this complete set of seven Halloween postcards published by Gibson Art Co. sold for $2,500.00, while in 2007, a single postcard from that Gibson Art Co. set was sold on the same platform for $76.00. While this is still a commendable price, it does show how completed sets are more valuable to collectors.
Another critical factor is the postcard’s condition, as a well-preserved card tends to be more valuable. Historical significance and market demand can further impact pricing.
Preparing for Halloween is a time filled with creativity, as this festive holiday has a rich history that spans thousands of years. Luckily, Halloween’s cultural evolution can be traced through vintage Halloween postcards. These charming greetings offer a visible tour through the holiday’s changing traditions, providing valuable clues to its development. Whether you are just beginning your journey in the world of collecting or you are a deltiologist, there is something in the world of postcards for you. Always remember to do your research and select an item that sparks joy.
Sarah Seippel is a freelance writer and finds much of her inspiration in her father’s unique collections. In her free time, she enjoys hunting down the best cup of coffee and pursuing for vintage deals.