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Vintage Halloween Postcards

Halloween 2004, October Holiday 2004

These greetings once filled mailboxes every October. Today, each one is a collector's prize.

"Owls a-hooting in the tree, pumpkins making faces mean, and lots of things that you can't see tell us that it's Hallowe'en."

In the first decades of the twentieth century, postcards did, too. Rhymes like this one, accompanying cheery printed images of solemn owls or red-cheeked apple bobbers, arrived in the mailbox with "Hallowe'en" greetings. That apostrophe has disappeared (the holiday was once All Hallows' Eve, or "even," abbreviated to "e'en"), but our fondness for the postcards -- sweetly innocent remnants of a pre-email era -- is still going strong. In fact, with all those pumpkins, moons, and black cats, Halloween penny postcards have become increasingly sought after. But you definitely won't find them for pennies.

This is not just because they're wonderfully illustrated or have the occasional pullout or lift tab-other antique postcards have them, too. Nor is it simply because they have superb color lithography. No, Halloween cards are especially collectible because, though once as popular as Christmas cards, they are now quite rare. And, as with things like Beatles dolls and pink diamonds, rarity makes them desirable. Collector competition is fierce. Some want witch cards only; others want depictions of the intriguing myth that if, on Halloween night, a girl holds a lighted candle and stands before a mirror, she will glimpse the reflection of her beloved-to-be.

The adorable Halloween images created by Ellen Clapsaddle, a prolific, pre-World War I American greeting-card illustrator, account for plenty of heated bidding at auctions and online auction sites. Her name -- conveniently for collectors -- is printed on much of her work. And some enthusiasts vie with one another to assemble the complete Halloween series published by the English firm Tuck (whose output can be recognized by the royal warrant: "Art Publishers to their Majesties the King and Queen"). The scarily charming postcards-featuring watermelon automobiles or onion-shaped ghosts- were printed in limited editions in England and Germany but were wholly American in spirit. That's because, though we imported Halloween from ancient Rome and the British Isles, it has become a truly American holiday. Nobody loves it like we do.

As is true with all ephemera, the pricier items (whether inscribed or not) will be free of dog-ears, folds, wrinkles, and chips. Clapsaddle cards that are in good condition can start at $175, and some Halloween greetings have changed hands for thousands. Compare these prices with the going rate for collectible vintage tourist cards -- Niagara Falls cards, for example, bring $3 to $25 -- and you can see how desirable the Halloween cards are. This is all good news for you, since it means that if you come across that rare album at a tag sale that just happens to have a Halloween card or two, you'll be able to afford all the gummy worms and apples that you like. Or, if you prefer, some candles and a looking glass.

Comments (8)

  • prod_test680 13 Oct, 2009

    This is cool.

  • kathyvs 19 Sep, 2008

    Trying the name again.
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    Old-Time Halloween Illustrations CD-ROM and Book

  • kathyvs 19 Sep, 2008

    A good source for vintage Halloween images is Dover Publications (doverpublications.com, but you can usually find them on Amazon for less. This is a good one with quite a few Halloween postcards and some vignettes also.
    Old-Time Halloween Illustrations CD-ROM and Book

  • MooBear 18 Sep, 2008

    i purchased the real vintage postcards for a good price on ebay! but some of them were going for sixty bucks! i got three for eight.

  • anitalasanowski 14 Sep, 2008

    Does anyone know where to purchase vintage look-a-like postcards? And is the spiderwebb something that can be made or purchsed through Martha Stewart??

  • karlaunderwood 10 Sep, 2008

    Love this idea!...How do you make the spider web and how do you attach it to te wall?...

  • karlaunderwood 10 Sep, 2008

    Love this idea!...I also would like to know how to make thespiderweb, and how you attach it to the wall... ;)

  • fivepinkdaisies 6 Sep, 2008

    Love the spiderweb card holder. How can I make that?