Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Leap Year, Come on Girls!

Leap Year

"My Last Chance"

"Don't Let Him Escape"

"Come on Girls!  Catch Him!"

postmarked in 1908 with 1 cent Franklin stamp

postcardcollector(dot)com  (a great postcards magazine I used to subscribe to, they no longer make them) -

Vintage Leap Year Postcards
by Roy Nuhn
Bachelors have long been the butt of much humor – some of it burlesque, some of it dark. To help alleviate their condition and allow them to escape the fate traditionally assigned to lonely, single men, legend and folklore give maidens the right to pop the question themselves once every four years. This sort of open hunting for footloose and fancy-free bachelors has even been made law on a couple of occasions.

Fable and myth trace the beginnings of this practice to St. Patrick and to the British Isles in general. Supposedly, during the late 4th or early 5th century, St. Bridget, head of a nunnery, went to St. Patrick, then the bishop of Ireland, for help. All of the sisters were in revolt, demanding the right to propose marriage to reluctant suitors.  (Apparently men and women of the church in those days were allowed to marry.)

St. Patrick was sympathetic and understanding of the women’s frustration of living in a society where only men could do the asking. He decreed that women be permitted to do the proposing one year out of four. This new “open season on bachelors” soon began to take place during Leap Year, another quadrennial event, and so it has been since.

Bridget’s success in getting St. Patrick to agree to the new custom prompted her to ask him the big question herself. He gently refused, and to soothe her hurt feelings, gave her a kiss and a silk gown. Henceforth, men would be obliged to make some sort of payment for refusing a woman’s offer.

This was unwritten law in the British Isles for many centuries. In 1228, a Leap Year, the Scottish parliament passed legislation imposing a heavy fine on any man if he did not accept a marriage proposal from a woman.

The term Leap Year originated in the England of old, when February 29 did not officially exist. It was completely ignored in all financial and legal matters, and anything falling on that day had to be dated Feb. 28. As a result mankind literally “leaped” over February 29 as if it didn’t exist.

As with most customs, things changed significantly by the advent of the 20th century. April Fool’s Day and Leap Year were no longer taken seriously, but treated as jokes and occasions for buffoonery.

Because there were only three Leap Years during the heyday of souvenir postcard publishing (1902 to about 1914), it is difficult today for collectors to find as many of them as they do for other holidays.

Yet a large number did survive. In all, nearly 30 different publishers, all but a handful of them American, produced more than 40 different sets. Upward of 250 different cards are known. Since production runs tended to be in the tens to hundreds of thousands, several million Leap Year postcards were eventually printed for the marketplace. Our grandparents and great grandparents found them in sore racks everywhere for a penny each.


  1. How interesting story! Thanks for sharing. The postcard is funny indeed.

    1. thanks! - your blog too has a lot of interesting things ;-)