Historic Postcards Keep St. Patrick’s Day Traditions Alive

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Deltiologists Have The Luck of The Irish A Lost Art Unites Generations

By Michael Perlman

Most St. Patrick’s Day postcards are festive yet graceful lithographs, which feature hand-colored scenes of Ireland, musical scores, shamrocks, leprechauns, couples or children dancing, and golden harps among the imagery. At times, they are complemented by eloquent, romantic, and blissful poetry. The majority of these postcards were published during the first two decades of the 20th century. Today, all are considered to be collectible works of art, and range from a few dollars to over one hundred dollars, depending on their artistry, publisher, and rarity. 

In 1873, the first American “picture postcard” was produced. Today, a significant number of postcards from the late 19th and early to mid-20th century exist in a good to optimal state with fine penmanship and one-cent and two-cent stamps. Some St. Patrick’s Day postcards feature handwritten notes with fountain pens, enabling the sender’s spirit and the bond with the recipient to convey continuity.  

Deltiology is the collection and study of postcards, which derives from “deltion,” a Greek term for a writing tablet or letter. A postcard collector is a deltiologist. Several decades ago, postcards could be found at a corner pharmacy, but today, vintage postcards are found on eBay and at estate sales and the Metropolitan Postcard Club’s shows among others. Nearly every theme is represented, including hometowns, hobbies, and holidays.  

Scenery featuring bodies of water, bridges, and castles commonly appear on St. Patrick’s Day postcards, reminiscent of an Irish immigrant’s home country. An illustrious circa 1912 “St. Patrick’s Day Souvenir” reinforces the bond between America and Ireland with a handshake between a lush assemblage of shamrocks and American and Irish flags and crests, forming a banner that surrounds Cappaquin Co. Waterford, Ireland. It highlights Munster Blackwater, a river flowing through Kerry, Cork, and Waterford, and consisting of at least 27 bridges.

Originating in 1631 by the Catholic Church, the feast day on March 17 bears homage to Saint Patrick (c. 385 – c. 461), Ireland’s foremost patron saint. Irish immigrants were later responsible for introducing the tradition to America, and Irish-American pride became a norm, in addition to worldwide rejoicing.

A circa 1910 festive embossed postcard is part of the B.B. London & New York Series 1603, and was printed in Germany. “The Dear Little Shamrock” is one of many songs that a deltiologist can play to honor the holiday, which also shows how a postcard collector can further embark upon a journey by collecting music scores. This song was written by English composer, pianist, and music teacher John William Cherry (1824 – 1889) and published by W.A. Evans & Bro. in 1871.

An educational experience unfolds, as Cromwell Bridge in Glengarriff is depicted in dream-like lithographic woodlands. This seaside village in West Cork features ancient woods, lakes, and rugged mountains. The bridge’s name is suggestive of “crom choill,” an Irish term meaning “sloping wood.” It could also represent “Currach An Mhaoilinn,” which is a bare flat-topped marsh. David Myler of the Facebook page Walking with Stones, suggested that it is derived from “croimeal” or “moustache,” pertaining to the archways’ configuration.

Irish heroes must not be forgotten. Such is the case with a circa 1909 postcard by Raphael Tuck & Sons, Series No. 157 “The Emerald Isle.”  Lord Edward Fitzgerald (1763 – 1798), Robert Emmet (1778 – 1803), and Wolfe Tone (1763 – 1798) are depicted in an ornate shamrock, accompanied by ribbon and smaller clovers. Their names are embossed in gold leaf. Fitzgerald was an Irish nationalist and aristocrat known for his gallantry, and as a leading conspirator of the United Irish Rebellion of 1798. Emmet is remembered as an Irish nationalist patriot, Irish Republican, and an orator who led rebellion against British rule in 1803. His speech from the dock is largely quoted. Tone was a leading Irish revolutionary figure and a founder of the United Irishmen, which revolted against British rule in Ireland.

This prominent publishing firm was founded in London by Raphael Tuck (1821 – 1900) and operated from 1866 to 1959. Other addresses included Paris, Berlin, Montreal, and 298 Broadway and 122 – 124 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. In 1894, his son, Adolph Tuck, created their first picture postcard. The firm was referenced as “Art publishers to their majesties the king and queen,” since Queen Victoria granted the Royal Warrant of Appointment in 1883.

A number of postcards depict Blarney Castle, which is sometimes complemented by an eloquent poem. It is surrounded by a heart-shaped wreath of three leaf clovers, with “Irish Hearts” inscribed in gold. Also evident is “Erin Go Bragh,” which translates as “Ireland Forever.” This expression of loyalty initially appeared in English in the late 1700s Irish rebellion against the British. A golden harp is adorned by a green ribbon. Ever since the 13th century, the harp has been Ireland’s heraldic symbol. Blarney castle, nearly five miles from Cork, is among the most significant sites, and is classified as a tower house designed by Gaelic lords and the Anglo-Irish between the 15th and 17th century. It is a tradition to kiss the Blarney Stone, which is built into its battlements, and this will reward a visitor with a gift of the gab, known as eloquence and flattery.

Prominent artist John Winsch (1865 – 1923) of Stapleton, New York, applied his touch to St. Patrick’s Day postcards. He was co-manager of Art Lithographic Publishing Company. Many of his cards were published in sets, and he produced approximately 4,000 designs between 1910 and 1915. He was highly recognized for his holiday themes, as well as his use of European artists who worked with his German printers.

A shamrock, which is Ireland’s national emblem, appears on a 1912 John Winsch postcard where an elegantly appointed couple uses a steering wheel to operate its inspiration for a hot air balloon. An aerial view captures a castle and the Emerald Isle theme of Ireland due to its rolling green hills. This postcard is Victorian yet innovative, since an imaginative approach and technological forms of transportation was embraced in the early 20th century.  

A jovial couple is brilliantly captured in traditional St. Patrick’s Day attire in another 1912 John Winsch postcard, as they stand adjacent to the banks of the majestic River Shannon at a village known as Foynes. Spanning 240 miles, it is the British Isles’ largest river. Elaborate deep green and gold intricate calligraphy greets the postcard recipient, and signifies how designing postcards was a labor of love.

A modern-day collector or an early 20th century recipient feels like jumping into the watercolor inspired lithographs, as in the case of a scenic view of Shane’s Castle. It is framed by an ornate gold, blue, and green window-like border, graced with bright green shamrocks and alternating green leafy motifs. This ruinous castle is located on the northeast shores of Lough Neagh near Antrim in Northern Ireland, and was erected in 1345. Its name originated after Shane McBrian McPhelim O’Neill, ruler of Lower Clandeboy from 1595 to 1617.

A heavily embossed and multi-dimensional varied green and gold poetic postcard features a woman playing traditional St. Patrick’s Day music on a harp, evoking “dear Irish memories,” which cannot be fragmented by scientific force. Blarney and lakes O’Killarney are deeply rooted with tradition. The internationally acclaimed lakes in County Kerry consist of Upper Lake, Muckross Lake, and Lough Leane.

Another exceptional postcard that presents a musical score enables current generations to play classics, such as “The Harp That Once Thro’ Tara’s Halls.” This design was copyrighted in 1908 by M.W. Taggart, a New York City-based firm from 1905 to 1910, whose specialty was holiday and greeting postcards. The song was published in 1875 by the Poet’s Box in Glasgow and composed by Irish poet and barrister Thomas Moore (1779 – 1852). In Co. Meath stands a mysterious hilltop known as Tara, where Irish high kings resided. Early ballads originated from folk culture and predated printing, but many have been preserved as a result of being recorded on broadsides.

A circa 1911 Raphael Tuck & Sons “Erin Go Bragh Series” of postcards No. 177 features a fairy wearing a laurel wreath on her head, while holding a flag in one hand and extending shamrocks to a beautiful and rare native land, as she overlooks the sun-accentuated waters. Along with a harp, it reinforces devotion to Irish heritage and embraces natural wonders.  

Continuing the expedition, an abundance of four-leaf clovers and cameo and landscape mode gold-framed views become a window into an artist’s rendition of three iconic destinations. Ross Castle is situated in an inlet of Lough Leane, and it is presumed that it was erected in the 15th century by chieftain O’Donoghue Mór. According to Heritage Ireland, Sligo Abbey, a Dominican priory has been a focal point of Sligo’s eastern district since the town’s founding in the mid-13th century. It consists of a church, sacristy, chapterhouse, and a cloister among related buildings. Carrickfergus Castle stands proudly as a best preserved Irish medieval structure since 1177, when it was erected by Anglo-Norman knight John de Courcy. It is located in Carrickfergus, a town on the northern shore of Belfast Lough. 

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