Samuel Loren Schmucker was born in 1879 in Reading, Penn. where he first established himself as an artist at a young age. His career ended in 1921 when he suddenly died from a heart attack at the age of 42, according to the Reading Public Museum’s website. He was a resident of Long Island, NY at the time of his death, but was also known to reside in Delaware and New York City during his career.
Early Years as an Artist:
A victim of polio as a child, Schmucker successfully worked as an artist in spite of partial paralysis in his right arm and hand. He compensated by learning to grip his artist’s tools in a claw-like manner, and by the time he turned 14 he was known as a quite a talent in his Pennsylvania hometown.
While still a teenager, he left Reading for Philadelphia where he continued to study drawing and still life illustration at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. He then transferred to the Howard Pyle Institute at Drexel where he studied practical illustration alongside recognizable names such as Maxfield Parrish and Jessie Wilcox Smith, according to the Reading Public Museum’s website.
Working at Mid-Life:
Schmucker established his reputation as a commercial artist by 1905 creating both imagery for postcards and pen and ink sketches for fashion plates featured in the Philadelphia Daily Press. During the height of greeting postcard production in the early 1900s, his work was printed by both the Detroit Publishing Company and the John Winsch Company. His work during this time combined European Art Nouveu with the American Brandywine tradition resulting in illustrations weaving beautiful women and sometimes children into complex, colorful designs avidly sought by today’s collectors.
The illustrations Schmucker provided to Detroit Publishing Company were issued on 52 postcards divided into eight sets entitled Smokes, Mermaid, Drinks, Butterfly Girls, Childhood Days, Gnomes, International Girls, and Fairy Queen, according to The Metro Postcard Club of New York City’s website.
Toward the End of His Life:
Greeting postcards changed to simpler illustrations and were less avidly sent and saved by consumers by 1912, but Schmucker still managed to sell about 130 postcard designs to the National Art Company between 1915 and 1921. He also used his talents to design illustrations for candy boxes and labels, along with other objects, during this time. And, surprisingly, he worked as an accountant and opened an advertising agency to make ends meet prior to his premature death at the age of 42.
Schmucker’s Family Ties:
Katherine Rice, Schmucker’s wife, often served as a model for his illustrations. She became known as the “Winsch Girl” and also the “Schmucker Girl” on postcards issued by Detroit Publishing Company.
Celebrating Schmucker’s Work
In 2005, the work of this talented illustrator was featured in a joint exhibition in Pennsylvania between the Reading Public Museum and The Historical Society of Berks County titled Samuel L. Schmucker: The Golden Age of Postcards. The exhibit featured 88 paintings discovered in the basement of a Montana brewery in the mid-1990s along with a number of his postcard sets.
Speaking of Schmucker’s work featured in the exhibit, the Reading Public Museum shared the following: “Within his brief career Schmucker combined the design elegance of Art Nouveau style with the rich color palette of the Pre-Raphaelite artists, bringing a unique, artistic vision to a popular art form.”
A book published in 2001, Samuel L. Schmucker: The Discovery of His Lost Art by Jack Davis and Dorothy Ryan (now out of print), also celebrated the work of this artist largely unknown to those outside the antique and vintage postcard collecting community at the time.
His Popularity with Collectors Today:
Schmucker’s illustrations for the John Winsch Company are some of his most popular greeting postcards, especially the Halloween examples (like the one shown accompanying this article). Hard to find cards can sell in excess of $500, and even the more common ones can easily exceed $75 each. Most of these valuable cards feature beautiful women with bountiful color in the illustrations.
Schmucker’s work on other holiday cards such as those made for Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Thanksgiving and St. Patrick’s Day are just as lovely but often more affordable. However, a Schmucker postcard published by Winsch will almost always be worth four to five times as much as similar cards by less popular artists and publishers.