The History of Halloween and Its Postcards

All Hallow’s Eve, Samhain, Halloween – no matter what version of the holiday you celebrate, the end of the harvest season and the coming of a darker, colder season is heralded at the end of October.

You can see the progression of the holiday through vintage Halloween postcards, a fascinating look at what the holiday was like back then.

Halloween started with the Celtic festival Samhain, where villagers built a bonfire and donned masks to confuse any spirits at the end of the harvest season.

This turned into All Souls’ Day in the 12th century, a day to pray for the dead.

In the Victorian Era the holiday turned into a fun, less creepy holiday focused more on romance.

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Postcards from this time period reflect these themes; many Victorian Halloween postcards show couples embracing, surrounded by pumpkins on a moonlit night. A legend prevalent at the time said that a young woman could find the name of her true love on Halloween night. This included such rituals as eating an apple while looking in a mirror by candlelight, or peeling an apple in one continuous peel and seeing what letter (the alleged first letter of a lover’s name) the peels formed. Another, more questionable ritual suggests going down a staircase at midnight while holding a mirror that would show her future husband. (We don’t recommend this unless your future husband is standing at the bottom waiting to catch you when you inevitably trip and fall down said staircase.)

Some vintage Halloween postcards come across as rather odd. This one, for instance, shows uprooted kale:

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This ritual meant wearing a blindfold and pulling up kale. The shape of the kale stalk suggested the look of a future spouse, and the taste suggested their temperament.

So if you come across vintage postcards with stalks of kale, you’ll be at least slightly less confused than before.

What are the strangest Halloween postcards you’ve seen?

Check out this link for more strange vintage Halloween postcards.

 

San Francisco’s 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition

The Panama-Pacific Exposition held in San Francisco in 1915 was a sight to behold. It took three years to build what turned out to be one of the most impressive expositions in America.

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You can get this postcard and the ones below at this link.

The official reason for the exposition was the newly finished Panama Canal, but many saw the event as the showcasing of the recovery of San Francisco after the earthquake of 1906. The earthquake set the city back significantly in a financial sense, and dimmed the city’s optimism for growth. But the exposition changed all that by bringing in millions of visitors and once again establishing San Francisco as a prominent city in the U.S.

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Twenty-four countries participated in the expo. The Tower of Jewels stood as the centerpiece of the event. Fake glass jewels covered all 435 feet of the tower, causing the tower to sparkle in the sunlight and shine under spotlights at night. In front of the tower stood the “Fountain of Energy”, right next to the Palace of Horticulture and the Festival Hall. Many other “Palaces” and “Halls” featured areas of growth in recent years, like transportation and agriculture. The Palace of Fine Arts particularly shone in its showcase, and it was the only building to be kept from the exposition. The building slowly fell into disrepair over the years, but it was renovated in the 1960’s and can still be visited today.

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The U.S. Post Office issued a set of four stamps in honor of the exposition, including a profile of Vasco Nunez de Balboa, the Pedro Miguel Locks of the Panama Canal, the Golden Gate Bridge, and San Francisco Bay.

The U.S. Mint also issued commemorative half dollar and gold coins.

Overall, the exposition was a huge success, pulling in over 18 million visitors over the event’s 10 months in session. And if you want to experience a piece of the glory of the fair, you can still visit the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco.

You can find more Pan-Pacific postcards at this link!

Photochrom Postcards

Photochroms (also spelled photochromes) are postcard varieties born from chromolithography. These stunning images make wonderful collectors’ items.

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How are photochroms made? Black and white photo negatives are colorized by transferring the negatives onto lithographic plates. This produces a color profile unique to the process that is very distinguishable from color photographs.

You can buy this photochrom postcard by Tuck & Sons here!

You can buy this photochrom postcard by Tuck & Sons here!

 

An employee of the longstanding printing firm Orell Gessner Fussli, named Hans Jakob Schmid, invented the photochrom process. Other companies picked up the process in the 1890’s when photochroms reached the height of their popularity. Color photography was made possible at the time, but chromolithography was easier and more convenient.

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When the Private Mailing Card Act let private publishers make postcards, thousands of photochrom postcards were produced.

Even after 1910 when photochrom’s popularity ended, companies continued to print photochroms, usually in the forms of posters and art prints. The last photochrom printer closed its doors in the 1970’s.

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The Zurich Central Library has the world’s largest collection of digitalized photochrom prints; many are available online.

Do you collect photochroms?

Bet You Didn’t Know The Origin of Basketball

On one fateful day in 1891, Dr. James Naismith needed a way to keep his students busy indoors during the cold winters. He came up with the rules for an indoor game played with a soccer ball and a peach basket nailed onto the wall. The number of people on each team was determined by the number of students in Naismith’s gym class. The game eventually evolved into basketball, the only major sport invented in the U.S.

Basketball rules evolved over time. When the game first started, the basket had a bottom and the ball had to be removed manually each time. The original game had no dribbling, either; dribbling was only introduced in the 1950’s when the ball had become a more uniform sphere.

Naismith claimed that he based the rules of basketball on the children’s game “Duck on a Rock”.

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You can buy this postcard here!

These are the original rules of basketball, penned by Dr. James Naismith himself (source):

1. The ball may be thrown in any direction with one or both hands.
2. The ball may be batted in any direction with one or both hands.
3. A player cannot run with the ball. The player must throw it from the spot on which he catches it, allowance to be made for a man who catches the ball when running at a good speed if he tries to stop.
4. The ball must be held in or between the hands; the arms or body must not be used for holding it.
5. No shouldering, holding, striking, pushing, or tripping in any way of an opponent. The first infringement of this rule by any person shall count as a foul; the second shall disqualify him until the next basket is made or, if there was evident intent to injure the person, for the whole of the game. No substitution shall be allowed.
6. A foul is striking at the ball with the fist, violation of rules three and four and such described in rule five.
7. If either side makes three consecutive fouls, it shall count a goal for the opponents (consecutive means without the opponents in the mean time making a foul).
8. A goal shall be made when the ball is thrown or batted from the grounds into the basket and stays there (without falling), providing those defending the goal do not touch or disturb the goal. If the ball rests on the edges, and the opponent moves the basket, it shall count as a goal.
9. When the ball goes out of bounds, it shall be thrown into the field of play and played by the first person touching it. In case of dispute the umpire shall throw it straight into the field. The thrower-in is allowed five seconds. If he holds it longer, it shall go to the opponent. If any side persists in delaying the game, the umpire shall call a foul on that side.
10. The umpire shall be the judge of the men and shall note the fouls and notify the referee when three consecutive fouls have been made. He shall have power to disqualify people according to Rule 5.
11. The referee shall be judge of the ball and shall decide when the ball is in play, in bounds, to which side it belongs, and shall keep the time. He shall decide when a goal has been made and keep account of the baskets, with any other duties that are usually performed by a scorekeeper.
12. The time shall be two fifteen-minute halves, with five minutes rest between.
13. The side making the most points in that time is declared the winner.

The Power of Pineapples

Ah, the humble pineapple — a wonderful tropical fruit that’s tasty in fruit salads and smoothies. But when it comes to pineapple, there’s more than meets the eye. There’s history and meaning behind it that you might not expect.

The fruit comes from South America. Christopher Columbus, who encountered the pineapple on the journey to the New World, brought the fruit back to Spain. The voyagers named it piña because it looked like a pine cone.

Show your friendly personality with this lovely pineapple charm: currently 25% off on our eBay page!

Show your friendly personality with this lovely pineapple charm: currently 25% off on our eBay page!

In the Caribbean, a pineapple placed by a village entrance represented hospitality. Seeing a pineapple at an entrance meant you were welcome to come in.

Captains used to put pineapples (symbols of their exotic travels) out on railings when they returned home as a sign that they were currently at home.

European hothouses grew pineapples for those who had developed a taste for them. Emperor Charles V of Spain wasn’t a fan of the fruit, but the public had different tastes, and the 18th century saw pineapples become a popular delicacy.

Vintage Jiffy-Jell advertisement using the tradition of a pineapple as a centerpiece.

Vintage Jiffy-Jell advertisement using the traditional pineapple centerpiece.

Colonial America families put pineapples out on the table when visitors came. Guest rooms often had pineapples carved into the bedposts, once again as signs of hospitality.

It’s not uncommon to see pineapples used in architecture and decoration from way back when. As a welcoming symbol, the pineapple is also said to mean good luck & prosperity in a home.

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Of course, one can’t talk about pineapples without mentioning Hawaii. It was only in the year 1901 that the pineapple became a recognizable Hawaiian symbol; that was the year that Jim Dole founded his Hawaiian Pineapple Company. Thanks to his expert hand at business, twenty years later the pineapple became Hawaii’s biggest industry. And until recently, Hawaii was the biggest canner of pineapples in the world.

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Vintage Hawaii pineapple harvesting postcard.

When it comes to current fashion, pineapples are having their moment in the sun. The summer may almost be over, but hospitality and friendliness are always in style.

Sources:

Florida Libraries

Symbolism

The Literature of G. A. Henty

G. A. Henty (1832-1902) wrote a LOT of books: over 100 novels and stories. He exclusively wrote in the historical adventure genre.

Henty’s interest in writing started at an early age. He often got sick as a child and spent his days in bed. With not much else to do, he read constantly and developed a wide number of interests.George_Alfred_Henty

Henty left his university without finishing his degree to volunteer for an army hospital; he was soon sent to Crimea, where he saw the horrible conditions of war. He regularly wrote home with detailed scenes of war. These letters impressed his father, who sent them to The Morning Advertiser newspaper for publishing.

With the war behind him and his letters published, Henty started a steady writing career by becoming a war correspondent.

This was helped along by his strong sense of patriotism toward his home country of Britain that he held for all of his life.

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This stunning copy of Through the Sikh War is available here.

Henty’s first published book was titled Out on the Pampas. The main characters in the story were named after Henty’s children. The book was written in 1868.

Almost all of his stories involved young men (occasionally women) living in hard times, especially during war. His protagonists all contained sparks of courage with strong moral compasses. Through all of his stories, Henty draws on his real-life experiences with war.

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This beautiful copy of Jack Archer is available here.

Despite the kind protagonists of his stories, some of Henty’s views sparked controversy, even in Victorian times, for xenophobia and racism. Perhaps this is why his books have not stood the test of time.

Henty had a brief stint of popularity with readers in the late 19th century, inspiring other writers to write in “the Henty tradition”. However, the period of popularity was brief, and people lost interest in his stories less than 30 years after his death.

Henty’s detailed war stories with spunky heroes sparked the imaginations of Victorian readers, and with the amount of stories he wrote, he certainly guaranteed himself a good stint of popularity. His books can now be looked upon as relics of the times they come from. 

The Best Sewing Machine Cards from the 19th Century

Back when sewing was a way of domestic life for any woman with a family, sewing machines were a huge deal. The charismatic Isaac Singer sold the idea of sewing machines to women in the mid-19th century, and soon they became household staples.

Trade cards were the name of the game in the same century. They functioned as business cards, but people liked to trade them much like we trade baseball cards today. And sewing machines came with their own handy trading cards.

The art on such cards often surpasses any detail found on business cards today. (This isn’t the only time we’ve written about trading cards – see here for an article on 19th century pinup girl cards.) The cards had nice enough illustrations that they were kept and valued as art or scrapbook material. Business owners loved this, of course; along with art, the cards featured the name and information of the company. In the 1880’s and ’90’s, the availability of four-color lithography made cards especially popular for their added color and design.

Like many trade cards from that century, the illustrations look dated today. They feature scenes where the sewing machine sits in the center of the family, claiming a center spot in the parlor.

Here are some of the prettiest or just downright weirdest sewing machine cards that emerged from the 19th century:

The Tea Party sewing machine card vintage

“The Tea Party”

Vintage sewing card with a baby riding a sewing machine butterfly

Who knows what’s going on in this one? Not me.

Vintage sewing machine card showing kids playing around a sewing machine

Surely playing around the sewing machine is the time of their lives for some kids.

Vintage Portugal sewing machine trading card.

 

Sewing machine vintage advertising card

It’s the newfangled sewing machine bicycle!

Which card is your favorite?

The Art of Petit Point

The Arts and Crafts Era from the late 1860’s to the early 1900’s resulted in high-quality creations that relished traditional craftsmanship. Most of these were simple items like furniture; the difference was that they were made through handmade methods instead of being manufactured in a factory.

In the mid 19th century, a group of friends at the University of Oxford dreamed up the movement in response to developing industrialism. The group instead favored Romanticism and the Pre-Raphaelites.

Vintage compact from the Arts and Crafts Era.

Vintage compact from the Arts and Crafts Era.

This vintage compact, created in the Arts and Crafts Era, used the process of needlepoint called “petit point”. Petit point was the kind of method that members of the Arts and Crafts movement probably loved for its close craftsmanship. This method is similar to regular needlepoint, but is actually smaller and finer, though the two terms are often used interchangeably. It’s a small stitch done diagonally on a canvas with a higher mesh count. So when you think about it, the method’s name makes sense: in French “petit point” means “small point”.

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Closer detail of the compact.

Petit point is used for the smaller, more detailed work. A good example is the use of petit point on needlepoint rugs for dollhouses. What else would be able to do such fine detail?

You can also find petit point on many fine vintage purses. These usually feature floral designs, animals, or scenes of people in the countryside.

Lunchboxes, the Talk of the Playground (and Collectors)

Do you remember the days when your lunchbox as one of the most important things you carried to school? Tin lunchboxes used to be all the rage on the playground, featuring popular pop culture figures, often with matching Thermoses. How cool your lunchbox was would either side you with the cool kids or stick you in the “dork” category.

Now tin lunchboxes are all the rage with collectors.

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As with many things, a little mouse named Mickey got the ball rolling on character-approved lunchboxes. Mickey was featured on a metal “Lunch Kit” and soon other companies caught on.

Captain America lunchbox by Visitor7 on Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0.

Captain America lunchbox by Visitor7 on Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0.

 

In the mid-20th century, a company called Aladdin started the real lunchbox craze. They started printing pop culture-relevant designs on the boxes and dominated most of the market until the early 1960’s, around the time that the Thermos Company started decorating lunchboxes on all sides.

Around that time, Aladdin started making 3D lunchboxes, too, embossing designs on the metal boxes to make them stick out.

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By Visitor7 on Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0

In the 60’s, space-themed boxes were especially popular, with imagery featuring The Jetsons and Star Trek. This is on top of all the other famous figures like the Beatles.

And in the ’70s and ’80s, lunchboxes really took over in the cafeteria. TV shows and film featured on the boxes as sneakier marketing. Hot Wheel boxes were pretty popular, too.

Pro tip: Original Hot Wheels lunchboxes with the Twin Mill car are especially rare.

The popularity of lunchboxes has, unfortunately, died down a bit. But plenty of vintage boxes are out there for collecting nostalgic pieces of the past.

Did you own any pop culture lunchboxes as a kid? Do you collect them now?

A Brief History of the Postcard

For as long as the postal system has existed, people have been posting cards in the mail. The cards just weren’t labeled as postcards yet.

The first known “postcard” lookalike went through the mail in 1840, painted on the front and sent to English writer Theodore Hook with a penny black stamp. Rumors say he sent the card to himself as a taunt to postal workers, judging by the postal worker caricatures painted on the card.

Postcards officially happened in 1861 when H. L. Lipman bought the patent for commercially available cards. Said cards had a decorative border and not much else, allowing plenty of space for writing the address on the front and a full space on the other side for the note. Writing took priority over any pretty pictures.

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A postcard with an undivided back.

The first postcard with a printed image came in 1870. Camp Conlie, a training camp for soldiers in the Franco-Prussian war, made a lithographed design with the inscription “War of 1870. Camp Conlie. Souvenir of the National Defence. Army of Brittany”. However, these cards may have been sent in envelopes, making them less postcard-like.

The Edwardians brought postcard fads to a whole new level. They used postcards (thus renamed from “private mailing cards”) for sending information on every little thing going on in their lives, not unlike today’s text messaging and social media. This was the age of postcards with undivided backs, when people could only write on the front of the card.

An Edwardian postcard showing a little girl with a crown of flowers.

An Edwardian postcard.

During WWI postcards were popularly sent from soldiers. These “silks” were high quality cards and frequently passed from soldiers to family members as a way of greeting.

In the 1920s, dyes grew brighter and postcards became embossed to help with the new kind of ink. Humorous postcards also became very popular around this time.

Linen postcards entered the market from 1931 to 1959. Though not actually made out of linen, these cards had a linen-like texture to them. Many popular postcard companies made these at the time, like Curt Teich, E. C. Kropp, and more.

A typical British seaside postcard

A typical British seaside postcard

In the 1950s, Donald McGill and other artists made numerous successful British seaside postcards, many of which made innuendos and double entendres. The British government became concerned about Britain’s morals and made the decision to prosecute Donald McGill for obscenity. Though his postcards weren’t the most risque at the time, he was more popular than other postcard artists, making him the messenger to other risque postcard artists.

The 1980s did see a resurgence of seaside postcards with much more risque images, this time without the restrictions of the 1950s to stop their publication. Less saucy postcards of the British seaside still continue in popularity today.

In later years, postcards have become a conglomeration of subjects, with no one subject or material being more popular than the other. But postcards still stand their ground as essential tourism items and ways to say hello to loved ones in print.