Postcards weren't always reserved for the ambitious travelers or for an end-of-the-year family photoshoot, with your ancestors needing very few excuses to toss a new quirkily designed card into the mail intended for their best friend down the lane. Antique and vintage Halloween postcards are perfect artifacts which encapsulate this long-lost hobby thanks to their eye-catching muted colors and storybook scenes. If you want to go a little method with your Victorian costume this Halloween, think about taking up this historic practice of sending holiday postcards with some creepy or ghoulish cards this spooky season.
The Victorians Go Postal
As early as 1861, people in the United States were sending private postcards through the postal service to their friends and family. As war-time settled in the late-19th century and this cost-effective form of communication grew increasingly popular, Victorians began to buy and send postcards with a newfound fervor. In fact, they sent postcards with such an abundance that the late-19th century and early aughts were deemed the 'golden age of postcards.' There were postcards for holidays, destinations, humor, getting better, weddings, baby showers, and everything in between. Hand-drawn pictures turned into hand-colored photographs, which eventually became the glossy full-color prints people recognize today.
Popular Postcard Manufacturers to Collect
Given their importance in Victorian society, it only makes sense that there would be a vast number of national and local postcard manufacturers designing and printing new cards around the clock to accommodate their customers' numerous demands. Among these publishing companies and art companies that produced Halloween postcards include Darling & Co., Robson & Co., and Stengel & Company, just to name a few. Yet, some of these makers are far more collectible than others, and you should jump at the chance to be able to add postcards attributed to these companies to your personal collection.
Gibson and Co.
Gibson and Co. was a Cincinnati, Ohio based printing business, which got its start during the mid-19th century. By the turn of the 20th century, Gibson and Co. had begun contracting individual artists to devise their own designs for their holiday cards, including such talents as Bernhardt Wall and Kathryn Elliott. These artists, in particular, have cards which are easily identifiable and were often circulated during the Halloween season.
Raphael Tuck & Sons
A prolific printer of postcards from the mid-19th century to the early aughts, Raphael Tuck & Sons produced a wide selection of holiday cards, notably their Halloween cards, which are still admired today. These postcards were illustrated by artists across America but were printed in Europe and then shipped back to the states in a uniquely international manufacturing process.
John O. Winsch
A postcard printer which rose to soaring heights towards the end of the golden age of postcards, postcards made by Winsch are well known for their embossed features and rich pigments. Interestingly, many Winsch cards weren't printed with the company's signature or logo on the back, meaning that there were a lot of period copycat cards printed in the Winsch style. In spite of these competitor's attempts to derail Winsch's success, the company's cards are some of the most collectible today, being worth a hundred or two hundred dollars at the very least.
The Artists Behind These Famous Postcards
These turn-of-the-century businesses wouldn't have been nearly as successful as they were without the talented artisans who brought their novelty scenes to life on these printed cards. People like Ellen Clapsaddle, H.B. Griggs, Jason Frexias, and Clare Victor Dwiggins brought their own artistic lens to their designs, making them uniquely collectible. Thus, many people who collect Halloween postcards from yesteryear can also become attached to certain artists and seek to add pieces from those people to their personal collections.
What to Consider When Collecting Halloween Postcards
If you're new to collecting antique or vintage postcards, you're in luck. Since there was such a demand for postcards during the late-19th century and early 20th century, a lot of them survived, meaning that you can find some fun and funky examples to buy for yourself at affordable prices to start your collection off strong. Similarly, if you have some antique postcards lying around, you can get them out of storage and make a little money off of them.
Now, if you're interested in selling your postcards, some things affect value and so you want to keep in mind considerations like:
- Is it unused? - Postcards that haven't been defaced either by personal testimony or by the postal service are almost always worth more than those which have been circulated.
- Is it unmarked? - Postcards that don't bear any manufacturer's or printing information can be a bit tricky to price. You'll have to look at the card's designs to see if you can match them with any specific artists and their other works to see if you can better assess the individual card's value.
- How old is it? - Vintage cards from the mid-century aren't going to be worth as much as antique cards from the Victorian or Edwardian periods.
- What kind of art is it? - The types of art that's popular with collectors waxes and wanes, so you want to check on what's currently popular before listing any of your items as those Halloween pinup postcards might not bring in as much as they would have five years ago.
Don't Spook Yourself With High Prices
Generally speaking, antique and vintage holiday postcards aren't going to cost you an arm and a leg. Of course, by their very elder nature, antique postcards normally fetch a bit more than vintage postcards do, due in some part to their being fewer copies and a greater interest in these older designs. While you can find postcards that are individually worth a few hundred dollars, this isn't typical of most of these cards. In fact, the cards you can find listed are often priced between $20-$30 depending on their quality and age, with unique cards like this Halloween party invitation card circa the 1920s being listed for a little over those estimates at $70.
Where to Go to Start Collecting Yourself
Paper ephemera is some of the most well-preserved of all the antiques on the market, second only perhaps to furniture. Therefore, it's really easy to find antique and vintage postcards for sale. Of course, you should always check with your local antique stores and thrift shops to see if they have any bins or boxes full of old postcards that you can rifle through, as these are normally at the lowest prices you'll find anywhere. Keep in mind that most of these boxes are haphazardly thrown together, so you're going to have to hunt through the whole thing to find one or two of the ones you're looking for.
However, the most popular place to look for old postcards is online. Independent sellers on Etsy and eBay bring their local area's history to collectors like you. Similarly, online auction websites like Ruby Lane and Live Auctioneers are great places for serious collectors to find more valuable artifacts.
Mail-In Your Love for the Holidays With Paper Ephemera
Collecting antique and vintage postcards can be a rewarding and fun hobby, reminiscent of your childhood days collecting baseball trading cards, pennies, or stamp books. Imbue that innocent love for collecting into finding antique Halloween postcards for your collection. Whether you're a serious postcard collector or want to give them new life through scrapbooking or sending them through the 21st century mail, Halloween postcards from the 'golden era of postcards' will continue bringing joy to people like you for many years to come.