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!