St Patrick's Day Vintage Postcards - Céad Míle Fáilte - Toronto Public Library

March 15, 2013 | Bill V.

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March 17 is St Patrick's Day and my cousin Betty's birthday.

With large Irish emigre populations in Canada and the United States it's no surprise that the Toronto Public Library's vintage postcard collection is extensive in this genre.

The rich symbolism of Irish folklore shows in the postcards - along with the expected 4 leaf shamrock, there is the Cláirseach, the Shillelagh, the colour green, clay pipes, top hats, Gaelic phrases, a lot of dancing and singing, chasing pigs and, alas, some cliche stereotypes (in particular around liquor).

The first two cards are English by Raphael Tuck & Sons Art Publishers to the King and Queen circa 1908. The pretty girl chases the pig through the four leaf clover/shamrock "St Patrick's Day and I wish you luck" (you would need luck to catch a small pig - but the pig was also seemingly a good luck symbol). The card was sent from Toronto to Miss Evelyn Rugg, 448 Parliament Street. Both cards are part of series 106 - notice the design similarities.  The half moon has an older/stereotypically dressed couple and the mockingly funny phrase "It's niver too high for the Loikes of Us". The Tuck cards are embossed in rich deep colors - chromolithographs - certainly produced in Germany.

St Patrick's 1 2 pig clover    St Patrick's 1 2 moon

To quote the amusing and slightly romantic message to Evelyn Rugg:

"My Dear Miss Rugg, Yours to night, last night and tomorrow night and forever" signed the Same and some initials - now that's romantic!

St Patrick's 1 2 back 0001


The "Céad míle fáilte" / "A Hundred Thousand Welcomes" greeting is postmarked 1914 and was sent from Toronto to Mr Fred Baird in Rome c/o Sebasti & Realli - Clark's Orient Cruise.  It is also a Raphael Tuck & Sons card - always clearly marked on the back and often include series number.  I liked this card for the interesting biplane illustration - a newish technology less than 10 years old at this point.  I see a city skyscraper landscape - possibly New York - home to a large Irish immigrant population.

St Patrick's plane art deco


Below we have a much later card mailed in 1920 - it's a much more Art Nouveau moving into Deco designed card - produced by Gibson Art Company.  It was mailed to Miss Clara Waters - YWCA Dundas Street Toronto.   It has a lighter feel - it's not embossed - narrow range of colors and more white space - and the paper stock is much thinner (all factors making them cheaper to produce).

St Patrick's plane art deco0001


The following cards are produced by the Arthur Livingston Co of New York who was active from 1897-1907.  They're working on racist stereotypes of the Irish - Punch Magazine from England often portrayed the Irish as monkeys - or simianized.  The issue of Irish comic and racist caricature especially in the United States and England has been the subject of much research.

Like Raphael Tuck & Sons and others, Livingston marketed his colorful cards in series to increase the sales - you were more likely to buy several rather than a single - as seen here, Andrew V. had two.  These cards are lampooning the St Patrick's Day Parade and the figures do have a distinct suggestion of "monkey" features.  The book Making the Irish American : history and heritage of the Irish in the United States pg 373 talks specifically about Livingston penny postcards and puts them in the context of 19th century prejudice against the Irish in America.


St Patrick's 1906 Livingston flag

  St Patrick's 1906 Livingston car


These cards were printed in 1906 - notice the back is not split with message/address sections- it would only have been used for the address. Any message would have been written in the small white space bottom right corner.  Split backs only came into affect circa 1907 with a change in American law - this helps in dating postcards when there is no copyright or postal stamp information.

St Patrick's 1906 Livingston back


If you are interested in the history of the Irish in Canada you may enjoy the following:

Irish Nationalism in Canada         51E+sbkNthL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_

Did you know the Toronto Reference Library has an extensive vintage postcard collection?  You may have read earlier blog posts on our

If you are interested in doing further research you may enjoy the book Vintage postcards for the holidays : identification and value guide.

Vintage postcards for the holidays  identification

If you like early photographs / images / postcards of Toronto and Canada visit the Digital Archive which includes rare historical pictures, maps, manuscripts, ephemera and digitized books from our Special Collections for research, study and discovery.

Toronto Public Library has some of its photo/ephemera collections online at  Pinterest and Flickr as well as many of its past exhibits and displays in virtual exhibitions. Come visit us online or in person.

If you are interested in collecting postcards or knowing more about them did you know that Toronto has it's very own Postcard Club - TPC.   We also carry their official newsletter Card Talk in the Arts Dept of the Toronto Reference Library - 5th floor.