Vintage Halloween Postcards at Toronto Public Library

October 31, 2012 | Bill V.

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Did you know the Toronto Reference Library has an extensive vintage postcard collection? We have lots of cards on specific holidays including including Thanksgiving, the subject of an earlier blog post, and also Halloween.

Below, find a selection of postcards from the collection celebrating Halloween. They're mostly manufactured in Germany circa 1910. Over 100 years old they are still vibrant and offer a wonderful snapshot into the iconography of the holiday and a social commentary.  Some have been mailed while others are unused. They are chromolithographs, embossed and a couple have sparkle embellishments.  Not surprisingly there are reoccurring themes including witches, black cats, pumpkins, jack o lanterns and bobbing for apples.


If you like early photographs / images / postcards of Toronto and Canada visit the Digital Archive which includes rare historical pictures, maps, manuscripts, ephemera and digitized books from our Special Collections for research, study and discovery.

Toronto Public Library has some of its photo/ephemera collections online at Pinterest and Flickr as well as many of its past exhibits and displays in virtual exhibitions. Come visit us online or in person.

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This wacky British Raphael Tuck and Sons Hallowe'en post card Series No 150 is great (Tuck cards are clearly marked on the back of the card). This card was mailed on October 28 1908 from Toronto to Nova Scotia. The squash as racing car is very funny and seasonal as are the two pumpkin pot headlights (lanterns with reflecting mirrors were all early cars had).  I also like the Anthropomorphism of the pumpkin chauffeur  - this personification of pumpkins as people is a common theme - be sure to look at the singing Romeo pumpkin and his Juliet further down the blog. Lastly the witch in the back seat holding her broom - an early commentary on technological obsolescence.  Horse drawn buggies would still have been commonplace 104 years ago. The affordable Ford Model T car only began production in 1908.

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The Happy Hallowe'en postcard above is by the well known illustrator Ellen H. Clapsaddle.  She was particularly known for her portrayals of innocent round faced slightly idealized children and was very prolific (some say she created 3000 postcards!).  This card was originally produced by the International Art Publishing Company - their cards are fully marked on the back - and ours was mailed out in 1911 from Peru Indiana to Cornwall Ontario.  It's part of series 978 so there are several other related ones in the series. 

Some postcard collectors try to find / bring together entire series.  Other collectors will specialized in specific illustrators or publishing companies.  Others will focus on specific themes, images or holidays. She had a bit of a tragic life but lives on in her art.  In this case her signature is just below the pumpkin which makes attribution a lot easier - sometimes the signatures on her works are a bit hidden.  For unsigned postcards one will try to attribute to her based on the style of the illustration, the age of the card and the publisher.  The black cat "Happy Hallowe'en" surrounded by laughing Jack o Lanterns below is also by Clapsaddle.

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These two cards above speak to a different and somewhat later sparser illustrative style - the card on the left was mailed in 1914-  and both of these cards show more linen qualities to the paper. These would also have been cheaper to produce and sell as there is limited embossing, embellishments and fewer colors.  Earlier more elaborate cards were produced mainly in Germany (Saxony) but during World War I many card factories were destroyed and importing would have been impossible which would have let the American postcard manufacturers flourish - if they could get supplies.

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Above is another signed example of Clapsaddle's work - in this case you have the added information of "painting only copyright by S. Barre 1909" underneath the cat.  It's embossed so the cat and pumpkins have a three dimensional feeling on the front and was printed in Germany.  

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One of my coworkers told me when she was 8 years old in school she was forced to bob for apples. She hated it as she had long hair that got wet and couldn't swim, so the idea of putting her face in water seemed extra frightening. Ever since, she's had an aversion to both apples and authority. Apple bobbing was a common game circa 1910 as these cards show and was one of the key Halloween images.

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The Scottish bagpipe and kilt pumpkin jack o lantern bringing in the Halloween New Year is done by the company GDD - publishing company ‘Gottschalk, Dreyfuss & Davis’, London, Munich, New York - their trademark is a young girl putting a letter in a old fashioned circular pillar box mail box and this is helpful to know as their cards are not identified otherwise. This card is heavily embossed and also gilded on the border.

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Dancing vegetables were also a common motif.

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The romantic singing banjo playing plaid pant wearing pumpkin headed fellow is also a GD & D card. They're often deeply embossed with gilded elements on front and elaborate designs and frequently with a Scottish theme.

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The beautiful Gibson girl on a pumpkin moon taking homage from an endless row of jack o lanterns is done by the well known company of John Winschand is copyrighted 1913.   Cards by this company are highly sought after by collectors. This card design was most likely by American art nouveau artist, Samuel  L. Schmucker. The Halloween Faces card above is done by the same company and likely the same artist and they both show a different illustrative style. I would suggest it is a much more sophisticated and avant garde style (Winsch cards cost more to buy at the time).  

The Gibson Girl card was mailed to Beatrice Corrigan circa 1913/1914.  Toronto Public Library is fortunate to have been bequeathed the personal postcard collection of Beatrice Corrigan who was a well known University of Toronto professor.   The elegant Halloween Faces card was mailed to Prof Corrigan when she was 10 or 11 by her Aunt.   Toronto Public Library also has an image of the Corrigan family home on 544 St Clair Ave West as part of the Digital Archive.

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This card above is one of my personal favorites - extremely creepy - black cat - skeleton and a bit of devil ghoul.  Also from the estate of Beatrice Corrigan and postmarked 1913.  This one, not surprisingly, is mailed by a school friend rather than her sophisticated aunt.


If you are interested in collecting postcards or knowing more about them did you know that Toronto has it's very own Postcard Club - TPC.   We also carry their official newsletter Card Talk in the Arts Dept of the Toronto Reference Library - 5th floor.

If you are interested in doing further research you may enjoy the book Vintage postcards for the holidays : identification and value guide.

Vintage postcards for the holidays  identification