St. Patrick’s Day: Another Excuse to Collect!

The traditional St. Patrick’s Day postcard, dating back to 1910, are quick to find, even online, and will set you back just a couple of dollars. They’ll feature an idealized view of Ireland, featuring scenery, shamrocks, caricatures (red hair and freckles, always) and almost cartoon-y phrases.

As an Irish person—living in Ireland—let me relay the bad news/set the record straight: we don’t really celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Aside from having the day off work, it’s a slight non-entity.

Yes, you have people who use the day to drink themselves silly in the many pubs around the country (mainly because they have the day off from work). And those with families might brave the rain (it rains without fail, every year) to watch a parade. But in Ireland, there are no decorations, no traditional meals, no green wardrobe choices on the 17th of March; even our key politicians spend the day away from the country.

Even though these German-made papier-mâché candy containers are in quite poor condition, they are listed at nearly $300 due to their rarity.

This news will no doubt come as a disappointment to our American counterparts, who tend to pull out the stops for the day in question. But, of course, there is a valid reason that the U.S. has upheld and promoted the love of all things green mid-March: the further away from our heritage we are, the more we try to embrace it, remember it, celebrate it. Even if the way in which we do it is slightly far removed from where we actually started. And, my goodness, doesn’t the U.S. have a lot of Irish history to celebrate?

Certainly one of the more vocal immigrant groups, Irish pride has remained in the great cities of the States. I tell anyone I’m Irish, and they can’t wait to regale me with tales of their parents, grandparents or long-lost uncles who crossed the Atlantic, back in the day. I, myself, have relatives who made that very same move.

What started out as a religious holiday is now more of a nostalgic point in our calendars—and for those living away from the homeland, it is always an important part of the year, and certainly celebrated with more gusto abroad than at home. So, with its aforementioned links to Ireland, it’s no wonder that when it comes to St. Patrick’s Day, collectibles are most sought after in the U.S.

St. Patrick’s Day favors stretch back to the early1900s, when the holiday became more than the religious spot before Easter and—like Valentine’s Day, Halloween and Christmas—sweet vintage decorations and mementos are becoming highly regarded. So what should you look out for when hoping to collect or gift something original?

First and foremost (and most obviously): the color green. Ireland is called the Emerald Isle for a reason; all that rainfall keeps our meadows lush! However, outside any of the more obvious drinking-related memorabilia, here’s what to look out for—and funnily enough, most collectibles originate from outside Ireland!

This vintage Relpo ceramic pipe mug, made in Japan, hits all the Irish icons: shamrocks, leprechauns, pipes, and laurel leaves.

Key Collectibles

The easiest (and cheapest) way to start is through postcards. Dating back to 1910, they are quick to find, even online, and will set you back just a couple of dollars. They’ll feature an idealized view of Ireland, featuring scenery, shamrocks, caricatures (red hair and freckles, always) and almost cartoon-y phrases (“Top of the Mornin’ to Ya” is one that seems to be ever-popular), and an abundant use of the color green! They are often made in the U.S., and like most items to do with the day, were intended to act as a nostalgic reminder to ex-Pats of what they had left behind. Check before purchase if they have been used or not.

Containers to carry sweets and candy were made in Germany from about 1910 to 1930, generally out of papier-mâché. Watch out for figures in those traditional, cartoon forms again—leprechauns, girls, boys and lots of green. These can be tough to find in good condition, due to the fact that they are made of paper, and many have not withstood the test of time. So, those currently on the market place tend to be at the more expensive end of St. Patrick’s Day collectibles.

A mid-20th century leprechaun figurine from Japanese.

In a potentially unusual twist, there are lots of tiny ceramic leprechaun figurines and planters that seem to stem from Japan from about 1920 to 1940. They are often stamped “Relpo”—a Japanese brand, imported through Chicago during this time. They make fun decorative pieces and can usually be found for less than $50. This one attached is a planter cleverly modelled into a pipe, another enduring symbol of Ireland, with shamrock decorations.

The good news with St. Patrick’s Day collecting is that pieces are pretty cheap. Garage sales, flea markets and small online retailers will be your best bet for uncovering treasures. Because St. Patrick’s Day has become quite Americanized in how it is celebrated, the highest level of demand will be from the U.S. market. See what you can find when travelling abroad; this is where the best deals will always be.

Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Daoibh! (Um, that’s happy St. Patrick’s Day in English).

Natasha Sherling, a gemologist, diamond dealer and private jeweler, runs a fine jewelry advisory business, assisting clients with every aspect of the jewelry world, from research to purchase. She is a contributing writer to Professional Jewellery Magazine and LeCool Dublin, and is a curator for Aha Life. Although based in Ireland, Natasha’s time is divided between Dublin, London, Antwerp and New York. Her eye for detail and pleasure of discovery ensures she strives to bring the best to both corporate and private clients. To learn more, visit her website.

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