Halloween Postcards


Halloween postcards were nearly as popular as Christmas cards for the first few decades of the 20th century, and probably vanished when the telephone came into popular use - but over 3,000 were produced before then. I'm most interested in the cards that depict fortune-telling rituals or games, but cards also featured children in costume, prankplaying, anthropomorphic vegetable people, and Halloween symbols such as witches, ghosts and jack-o'-lanterns. Some modern-day collectors look for cards by certain companies (i.e., Tuck is popular for its "veggie men" series) or particular artists (especially Ellen Clapsaddle, who is most famous for her rosy-cheeked children). Some cards involved elaborate embossing, and a few were even "mechanical", meaning they had moving parts (for example, a hand holding a mask could be swung aside to reveal the frightened face beneath).

Many of these cards appeared as black and white illustrations in my books; now here's your chance to enjoy them in all their original glorious color!

Click any card below to enlarge

This card celebrates the notion of Halloween "tricks" in general, and suggests several different fortune telling methods, including apple paring, apple seeds, and eating an apple by the light of a candle before a mirror (the card even shows the hoped-for outcome, a wedding ring). Dated 1911. Here's the method of paring an apple and throwing the peelings over one's shoulder; they would supposedly form the initials of one's future spouse. Dated 1909.
From the same series as the previous card comes this one, showing what was probably the most popular form of Halloween fortune telling: Peering into a mirror by candlelight at midnight in order to see the face of one's future beloved. This variation of the mirror routine required some risky business, since one had to walk backwards down stairs at midnight (note the clock face) while peering into the mirror. This card may have been intended as a type of pop-out, since it is carefully scored. Another popular way of divining the nature of one's future spouse involved pulling cabbages at midnight on Halloween and reading the roots. This card features artwork by Ellen Clapsaddle.
The classic Halloween game of bobbing for apples is depicted on this embossed card. A heavy-on-the-Scottish variation of the lime kiln divination. "Rake the rick": In this lesser known method of fortune telling, seeds were raked on Halloween night, and supposedly one's future spouse would appear to try and gather the seeds.
This woman is trying her luck with the "luggie bowls"; each bowl has a different liquid in it, and her fate will be read from the one she chooses while blindfolded. The "fortune cake" was a popular Halloween party item: Typically a wedding ring was baked into a cake, and whoever got the slice with the ring would be next to marry.
This card probably refers to the ritual of pulling a straw from a haystack, which supposedly told a woman whether she'd still be a virgin at marriage or not! Dated 1913. Mr. Pumpkinhead is attempting one of the more esoteric forms of Halloween divination, in which a clue of blue yarn was thrown into a lime kiln, a rhyme recited, and the voice of one's future intended would then answer from the depths of the kiln.
"Write on the shells of two walnuts the names/Of two of your sweethearts and throw in the flames/The shell that cracks first is your lover's name/Be good to him and date he'll proclaim." A form of divination once so popular that in some areas Halloween was called "Nutcrack Night". Dated 1913. Although the artwork here simplifies this ritual somewhat, the basic idea was to roll a ball of yarn out a door or window, and one's future intended would appear to roll it back up. "Twine, twine, and intertwine/Let thy love be wholly mine/If my love be fond and true/Deeper grows his roses hue."
Although reading of tea leaves is a perennial favorite, it was especially popular on Halloween. The ritual outlined on this card seems to have been (fortunately!) created solely for this card: "Carry a black cat in a pumpkin shell/And a white owl on your right shoulder/Of the witches and goblins you break the spell/And your sweetheart's love will not moulder." Dated 1914. Here's another card which seems to suggest a non-existent ritual, this one apparently involving thistle-picking.
Another look at the luggie bowls, this one complete with a clock marking midnight and Scottish spellings. This card illustrates a little known Halloween ritual in which a wet shirt placed before a fire would lure the "fetch" one's future intended to appear and turn the wet side towards the fire.
A perfect illustration of Halloween vegetable people. Note also the candy containers hanging overhead (the real versions of which are now highly collectible!). Here a woman breaks an egg into a bowl of water, hoping to read the coagulated egg for signs as to her future.
It's possible this eerie card wasn't even designed for Halloween, although it employs such classic holiday symbols as a witch, bats, a ghost, and a full moon. And what is that ghost pointing at? Dated 1909. Playing cards (as fortune telling device) feature in this colorful card. Dated 1913. This card is probably circa 1910, and features both a frightening image and an unusual spelling ("Hallow-E'en")

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