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The Lost Art of the Halloween Postcard: An Interview with Halloween Expert, Lisa Morton

This 1909 card reads "Beware of ye wiles of Satan", making it possibly the only vintage Halloween postcard with a direct verbal reference to Satan.
Playing cards (as fortune telling device) feature in this colorful card. Dated 1913
A heavy-on-the-Scottish variation of the lime kiln divination.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This card is dated 1917, and shows a traditional candle-wax method of divination. The poem reads: "Let the candle grease drip and drop,/Into the water while it's hot; And the floating grease will form the name/Of your partner in the marriage game./Cupid's disguised as a witch Hallowe'en;/In all the games played his hand can be seen."
A fanciful Tuck's card, showing vegetable people made from pumpkins, corn husks and red peppers.
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 is probably circa 1910, and features both a frightening image and an unusual spelling ("Hallow-E'en")
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.

Lisa Morton has written several books on the history of Halloween. One aspect that fascinated her about this great holiday is the, now forgotten, practice of sending elaborately decorated cards for Halloween. At her website, lisamorton.com, she scanned most of her collection and has made them available (with commentary) to the public.

We spoke to Lisa about the lost art of Halloween cards and asked her what her favorite cards are.

Interview with Lisa Morton, Halloween Expert

How did the tradition of sending cards on Halloween originate? Why did it stop?

Lisa Morton: Back in the days before telephones (yes, there really were such days!), people stayed in touch via cards and letters. Postcards were a cheap and popular way to communicate, and they were produced by the thousands and in nearly every subject. There were probably around 3,000 different Halloween cards produced up until about 1920, when telephones came into popular usage throughout the U.S.

How did you get into collecting them and where did you find them?

Lisa Morton: When I was working on my first Halloween book (THE HALLOWEEN ENCYCLOPEDIA), I also had to provide illustrations for the book and the cards were both beautiful and in the public domain (since they were mostly produced prior to 1923, the public domain cut-off). I fell in love with the gorgeous, colorful, whimsical graphics and continued to collect them after I finished the book. Back in the early 2000s, Halloween collecting was still in its infancy and cards could be found
at antiques store, paper collectibles show, and ebay, and they were still relatively cheap. Now, however, the cards are often very expensive and more difficult to find.

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John Winsch card from 1912

What are some of your favorite cards?

The king of postcard manufacturers was the John Winsch Company, and their Halloween cards are among the most dazzling. I also love the mischievous work Bernhardt Wall, whose cards mostly depict grinning, anthropomorphic pumpkin people and playful witches. It's also worth mentioning that there are some contemporary artists who produce Halloween postcards, often in limited editions; for example, I'm a big fan of the artist Matthew Kirscht, who even produces embossed and gilt cards.

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News & Features
Halloween postcards, John Winsch, Lisa Morton, Matthew Kirscht
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