Archive for the Postcard Category

Witches, Old Style and New, 1913

Posted in 10s, chromolithograph, Halloween, Postcard, SFW on 27 February 2011 by redwitch1

This is one of a group of postcards that nearly bankrupted me late last year. But what could I do? Like the artwork of Samuel L. Schmucker, the postcards created by Ellen H. Clapsaddle (1865–1934) are some of the most sought-after Halloween collectors’ items. (According to J. L. Mashburn, it is one of her cards that has the highest value of all Halloween postcard. Fantasy Postcards: A Comprehensive Reference (1996), 235) And, although her cards featured in many works on Halloween collectibles, and many collector’s guides wax lyrical about them, I am assuming many of the readers of my blog haven’t seen this one because it does not feature a child—her signature composition element.

These top-end cards do not come up for sale very often, and almost never in this sort of condition. Fortunately for me, it appeared as part of a huge collection that only nearly bankrupted me—because I was only interested in sexy witch cards, and had many of these already—whereas the sale had clearly already bankrupted everyone else. In other words, everyone else blew their dough at the start of the sale, I paced myself and got almost everything I wanted. And I got them at reasonable prices.

This card is one of six in the “Series No. 4439″ published by International Art Publishing Co.” of New–York and Berlin (for one of the others in the series, see here). It was printed in Germany of course on one of the finest chromolithographic presses. Ellen Clapsaddle’s artwork is rendered in colour in near-perfect benday tints (even more perfect than this one). Clapsaddle spent years in Germany working directly and closely with the German engravers, and her expertise shows in this card.

This composition is a study in contrasts. Depicted are two women. The caption reads: “For Hallowe’en. ‘Old Style and New’” On the left—as you see at the top of this post—we have a classic hag-witch. Classic, from the tip of her pointed black hat to the underside of her silver-buckled old-style shoes. She has a hooked nose, long grey woolen dress and white cotton apron, a red cape with a wide white collar, a black cauldron and a black cat. All she is missing is a wand, but perhaps she favours potions over incantations.

On the right we have a beautiful young witch, fashionably dressed in blue silk gown, edged in white fur. She has a ruffle and muff, a dark blue, felt cloche hat with red ostrich plumes, and short curly hair—though not bobbed. This style of fitted, bell-shaped hat was first founded in 1908, but didn’t really become popular until the 1920s. So, in 1913, it was very avant-garde!

(According to Wikipedia, different styles of ribbons offered coded messages about the wearer: a knot signaled a girl was married or betrothed, a flamboyant bow that she was single and interested in mingling. It is not clear what two, erect and red, ostrich plumes might mean, except, perhaps, “watch out”!)

Note: this is not an example of “the hag is a hottie,” like my card from last week, because in this case we do not have a hottie pretending to be a hag. That is, we do not have a pretty witch wearing a hag mask, or a pretty young women dressed as a witch, with a hag mask on hand, but not being worn.

In the examples I gave last week, the artist couldn’t let go of the idea that a witch must be a hag, so they do a striptease-style “reveal”—something along the lines of “beneath this hideous exterior is a gorgeous young woman. You may be disgusted now, but wait until I get her mask/clothes off.”

Of course, the reverse of this pornotopic fantasy is the ancient fear that the “beneath this gorgeous exterior is a hideous old woman.” So, “the hag is a hottie” isn’t only artistic conservatism (I have to show the mask to you or you won’t know that this hottie is a witch, because a sexy witch is so hard for you to imagine), but I think that is part of it.

In this composition the artist juxtaposes and equates a hag and a hottie. That is, Ellen Clapsaddle is saying, this pretty young woman of today is a witch. Her arts of allure are of precisely the same order as the magic of this woman from yesteryear. The cloche hat and red ostrich plumes of the fashionably-dressed young woman are as powerful and as useful for creating magic as the cauldron—and perhaps the cat—of the old woman etc etc. Of course, I may be over thinking it but hey, that is my job!

A Jolly Good Witch, 1922

Posted in 20s, chromolithograph, Halloween, Postcard, SFW on 21 February 2011 by redwitch1

The caption on this “Halloween Greetings” postcard is “Wishing you a jolly good time.” There is no publisher credited on the verso, just a series number (“Halloween Series No. 42″) and the statement “Made in U.S.A.”—which is likely to be untrue. J. L. Mashburn estimates that “at least ninety percent of all Halloween cards and almost all of the 1900–1915 era, were printed in Germany by the great German lithographers, and were done exclusively for the American trade” (Fantasy Postcards: A Comprehensive Reference (1996), 235).

A couple of specialists claim that this card was printed by E. Nash Co. of New York, but as I have explained previously, Nash was only in business from 1908–10 and “since Nash cards are highly sought after and expensive, dealers have a vested interest in attributing anonymous cards to Nash, even ones postmarked over a decade later!” The seller of this card went further and claimed that that the art is a “Schmucker-style lady-witch”—which rivals Arnie’s English-is-not-my-first-language effort: “Don’t be economic girlie men.”

What I can tell you is that Thelma posted this card from Wolfeboro, NH to Mr P. Nelson in East Wolfeboro on the afternoon of 30 October 1922. I can also tell you that Thelma had excellent taste in halloween postcards, because—as you can see—the vignette on this card is stunning.

One thing to note about the artwork is the broom-shaped hat-pin thing tucked into the hat-band. I have seen this in a few places now, but it seems that I have not published any of them yet, so you’ll just have to take my word for it: this is regular theme in witchy images! [see update below]

Regular visitors to this blog will, however, have seen the beauty-with-a-hag-mask theme before (or, as I like to think of it, the “OMG the hag is a hottie” theme). Two of the best examples of this are this one from 1949, where a woman, on her way to a Halloween fancy dress ball, has a hag mask hanging on her wrist, and this stunner from 1964, depicting a naked witch, bathing in her cauldron, who has taken off and hung up her hag mask—along with the rest of her clothes.

* * * * *

Because I was so taken with this image, I photoshopped the caption away and re-oriented the image. I am not sure why I do these things, some images just cry out for it …

[UPDATE 2 August 2011: I have now posted these. See here and here (which includes an image of all three broom-shaped hat-pins together)]

A Joyful Hallowe’en, 1913

Posted in 10s, Lithograph, Postcard, SFW on 24 January 2011 by redwitch1

This postcard has a copyright mark “© H. L. W.” These are the initials of H. L. Woehler, from New York—though the card was printed in Germany.

The back is undivided but I have another postcard from this series by H. L. Woehler that is postmarked 12 October 1912 at Natick. MA. That card is described as a “Handembossed Postcard,” which seems to mean that it is hand painted or finished. This one is also “Handembossed” [sic]. In a moment it will become clear why I mention this other card at the outset.

As you can see, the front of the card has the caption “A Joyful Hallowe’en” in gold lettering above a lovely young blonde-haired witch in a loose, red, Grecian-style sleeveless dress and cape. She is showing off a broad expanse of pale skin around the neck and shoulders as she leans back into large, smiling JOL. She has a wide-brimmed, pointed black witch’s hat and a broom with a rather thin and curved handle. The card is textured and has a red edge.

Written around the artwork and caption on this face of the postcard is some doggrel verse inviting the un-named recipient to a Halloween party, followed by an address. The verse reads (as far as I can tell):

The old Witch bids her guests arrive
On Hallowe’en, if they would thrive.
Their fortunes then she’ll gladly brew
Within her pot so black of hue;
A Pumpkin Elf will quick preside
O’er feast and frolic. Woe betide
All those who miss the broomstick dance,
Or candle March! Don’t take the chance!

At the foot of the card we have the date and the name and address of the sender “Thursday Eve / October 30 8.30PM” and “Elizabeth Hayes Wilkinson / 526 N. Negley Avenue” (which is in Pittsburgh, PA).

As it happens, 30 October fell on a Thursday in 1890, 1902, 1913, and 1919. Since the verso of the card is undivided, and the inscription is on the front, it might seem safe to assume that the card was published before ca. 1907 when cards started to be published with a divided back (that is, that it was published in 1890 or 1902).

But, as I said at the outset, this card is part of a series which can be dated to 1912, so—despite the undivided back and inscriptionon the front—it probably dates to 1913. Another feature supporting this date is the red edge, which appears (among my cards at least) only on those from 1910–1913. So, I reckon this particular broomstick dance occurred on 30 October 1913.

Christmas Witch (not Befana), 1907

Posted in 00s, Photograph, Postcard, SFW on 14 December 2010 by redwitch1

Every January I slap my forehead and vow I will remember to do a post of La Befana next year (La Befana is the Christmas witch who delivers gifts to children throughout Italy on the night of 5 January). Once again I have forgotten to do this, though I remembered that I had forgotten a little earlier than usual. Even still, since I will be away for three weeks (until the second week of January), Befana will have to wait another year.

As you can see, this year I thought I’d wish you “A Merry Xmas & A Happy New Year” with a postcard from Philco (“Philco Series 6021 A”). Philco (aka “Philcom Publishing Co.”) were based at Holborn Place, London but printed their postcards “At Our Works In Prussia.”

They did a long series of photographic postcards of actresses, some tinted (see here), and seem to have used these photographs to create seasonal cards like this one. (See here for another Christmas post card, here for a New Year’s postcard and here for one titled “All Joy to You This Easter.”)

No doubt, if you had all of the Philco postcards all you’d be able to work out who the women are in this card. That is what this collector has been able to do by concentrating on a single actress: the gorgeous Maude Fealy. Since I am not a Philco collector of any description, I can’t identify our witch.

I can tell you, however, that the artist who has painted her neck-to-toe outfit has created a neo-medieval ensemble, complete with a late 15th century Burgundian hennin and veil (the pointed form of this cone-shaped headdress). The magical and astronomical symbols on her dress and on her long cape recall a wizard’s outfit, and “the hennin forms part of the costume of the stereotypical fairy tale princess”—so the outfit is a little confused in it’s design.

Despite the fact that our shapely witch is not on her broom—either astride it, or riding side-saddle—but simply pressing the broom to her side, she is flying over the rooftops with her entourage resting on her cape. And despite the incongruity of a witch doing all this while wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year—rather than a Happy Halloween—it is a witch who is doing this!

Schmucker’s Sexy Witch, 1911: The Holy Grail of Halloween Collectors

Posted in 10s, chromolithograph, Halloween, Postcard, SFW on 2 December 2010 by redwitch1

If you look at this page on AmericanPostcardArt.com you will find a few comments about this card that explains the title of this post.

If I’m only going to offer a few Halloween images, they might as well be the best, and it doesn’t get any better than the combination of [the artwork of] Samuel Schmucker and [the printing of] John Winsch. These are pretty much the holy grail of Halloween collectors, and they are stunning cards … This image is superb – colors, graphics, content.

If this sounds like hyperbole have a good look at this Samuel L. Schmucker artwork. This particular card shows

a beautiful young witch on her broomstick, dressed in a flowing green gown with goblins appliquéd on the skirt, draped in a purple cloak, and wearing a strange purplish dunce’s cap with red suns and stars. There’s an owl hitching a ride on her broom. Behind her is a full moon with a rather leering expression, and the sky is lovely with stars.

(For “strange purplish dunce’s cap” read “gorgeous silver witch’s hat”—but otherwise it is a good description.)

The writer on AmericanPostcardArt.com doesn’t mention that the card is embossed, which is not very obvious in scans, or the effect that this has on the lovely skin tones of our witch’s rounded arms, the rippled skirt, the layered feathers and the rough brush of the broom.

The caption reads:

All Hallowe’en
When the world is wrapped in slumber,
And the moon is sailing high,
If you peep between the curtains
You’ll see witches riding by.

The card was posted by “Aunty LuLu” from Azusa to “Miss Julia Heslop” in Pasadena, California on 26 November 1912. As you can see, the copyright date is 1911 but the publisher (John Winsch) was not going to give up on such a popular design and it must have been re-issued from year to year because I have seen franking dates into the late teens.

These cards are featured in almost every work on Halloween collectibles, and many collector’s guides wax lyrical about them. Lisa Morton in The Halloween Encyclopedia (2003), 141, writes:

Today these [post]cards are highly prized Collectibles, none more so than those manufactured by John Winsch; Winsch cards featuring the artwork of Samuel L. Schmucker are small masterpieces of art nouveau, combining enchanting women, Halloween symbols, and high quality prinnting, often with gelatin finishes.

J. L. Mashburn in Fantasy Postcards: A Comprehensive Reference (1996), 235, writes:

The classical J. Winsch cards, illustrating the beautiful works of S. L. Schmucker … are definitely the most sought after of all that were published.

As the writer on AmericanPostcardArt.com says “not only are these cards terrifically expensive, they are darned difficult to find no matter what your budget!” In 1996, Mashburn valued the cards at USD100; I have seen them regularly pass USD200; and one particularly lovely one, with an embossed border, went for USD1000!

I have long wanted this particular Winsch/Schmucker card—I adore the green dress—but there are a few other Schmucker designs that feature witches. The only problem is, because they are so well know, highly prized, and often reproduced, there didn’t seem much point struggling to get one and blog it, because the chances are you have all seen it before. And when I do my book, the publisher will easily be able to obtain images and rights to reproduce all the Winsch/Schmucker cards.

And, as my regular readers will know, I have chased down the more obscure witchy material first. But, I kept watch for over five years and recently picked this one up at a reasonable price. It could be as many more years before I get any of the others, and I doubt I will ever see another one under USD100. So, enjoy—and possess yourself of patience! (Or become a ninja delivery-person. The work is light and the pay is good!)

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