|By Larry LeMasters
Postcards, as we know them today, are products of years of evolution. Postcards first became popular in the late 1800s when, following the Industrial Revolution, postcards were easy to manufacture and were quick and easy ways for family and friends to communicate with each other over long distances.
Postcard history changed forever during the American Civil War when the U.S. Congress (on February 27, 1861) passed an act allowing privately printed or drawn cards, weighing one ounce or less to be sent in the mail. Later in 1861, John P. Carlton copyrighted the first postcard produced in America.
Government-printed postcards competed with privately printed postcards in the late-1800s, but by the late 1890s, postcards were a private industry and the cards were referred to as “private mailing cards.”
In 1901, the Postmaster General issued an order allowing the words “post card” to be printed on privately printed postcards, eliminating the longer “private mailing card” phrase. This single act, more than any other, propelled postcards into everyday usage in America and the postcard era began.
Although Christmas and Thanksgiving were the busiest times for postcard sending, Halloween ranked third as Halloween, around 1900, took off as a secular holiday and as a time for sending scary “greetings” to friends.
Three of the earliest Halloween postcard printers were John O. Winsch, of Stapleton, New York, Raphael Tuck & Sons, and the Detroit Publishing Company. These famous printers purchased and printed for consumer sales Halloween cards illustrated by Samuel Loren Schmucker.
Samuel Schmucker was just 42 years old when he died on September 4, 1921, but before his death he became one of America’s premier postcard artists.
Schmucker lost the use of his right, dominate arm due to polio when he was a young boy. His great passion was art, so he learned to draw left handed and when old enough he enrolled at the prestigious Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. From 1899-1900, Schmucker studied at the Howard Pyle Institute under the famous American artist Howard Pyle.
Most deltiologists (those who study and collect postcards) recognize Schmucker as America’s outstanding postcard artist during the Golden Age of postcards, circa 1898-1915.
Although Schmucker is famous for his Schmucker Girl and Winsch Girl illustrations and for his fashion illustrations for the Philadelphia Daily Press, postcard collectors, today, seek out Schmucker Halloween postcards.
Influenced by his teacher Howard Pyle, Schmucker became an American Art Nouveau artist and designer. Many of his postcards, including his Halloween postcards (which he made famous by spelling “Halloween” as “Hallowe’en,” reflect Art Nouveau flair and design. Collectors searching for and treasuring Schmucker’s Halloween postcards have helped rescue his work from virtual obscurity, making Schmucker postcards highly sought after collectibles.
John O. Winsch, of Stapleton, New York, was one of the first publishers to print Schmucker Halloween postcards. Winsch first printed postcards in 1910 after the Payne-Aldrich Act increased tariffs on imported postcards, opening the way for American artists and printers to prosper in this growing field. Winsch, however, still printed his postcards overseas, in Germany where card printing reached higher qualities, and imported them to America for distribution.
The common price for a Halloween postcard in 1910 was one cent, but with import taxes, Winsch’s cards, bearing Schmucker’s artwork, sold two for five cents, which was a fortune in 1910.
Winsch remained in business for just six years (1910-1915) but during this short time, he copyrighted more than 3,000 postcard designs, and his Halloween designs by Schmucker are still the most sought after Winsch postcards ever printed.
Raphael Tuck founded Raphael Tuck & Sons in London in 1866. Raphael Tuck & Sons became one of the most well-known postcard printers in the late-1800s. Tuck & Sons continued to operate a successful postcard printing business through the early 1900s, focusing on the three celebrated postcard holidays — Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Halloween. Samuel Schmucker soon became one of Tuck’s most expressive artists, and, today, Raphael Tuck & Sons Schmucker Halloween postcards are some of the most expensive postcards sold at paper sales, often averaging $300 or more per postcard. Tuck’s Halloween Postcard Series 100 remains one of the most sought after Halloween postcard series ever printed.
Novice collectors should read Samuel L. Schmucker the Discovery of His Lost Art by Jack Davis and Dorothy Ryan, Jan 1, 2001. Published by Old America Antiques, this biography of Schmucker and his work is invaluable for anyone desiring to be a serious collector.