Billiken is one of those words that tends to raise eyebrows as well as questions ... what's a Billiken?
For anyone who attended St. Louis University, a Jesuit college founded in 1818 and the oldest college west of the Mississippi, Billiken is a familiar word. Billiken is the St. Louis University's mascot and the name of its sports teams. Billiken is also the chubby, naked Buddha-like figure which enjoyed national and international popularity from 1908 to 1911. One could say that Billiken was the fad of its day. He was a good luck charm and countless products were made in his image.
After graduating from St. Louis U.,I moved with my husband from Missouri to California at the age of 22. One of the few things I brought from home was a blue felt banner with a white Billiken on it. Every time I looked at it, I felt connected to my alma mater and my hometown of St. Louis. But it wasn't until years later, when I happened upon an old Billiken plaster figurine at an auction in Maryland, that my interest in collecting Billiken memorabilia was reborn.
Soon after, I began seeking out old Billiken postcards and paper ephemera. The most common Billiken postcards show a smiling, red-haired Billiken seated in a green circle edged in gold above various upbeat sayings such as, "Grin and Begin to Win." But there are also postcards with sports-motif Billikens and even sinister looking Billikens with separated toes and pointy ears.
My favorite Billiken postcards are a series I've nicknamed "Billiken on the Beach." Most of these were originally sold at Atlantic City or Coney Island and depict various poses of Billiken in beach settings. I have four in this series, but since postcards were usually issued in sets of six, I'm still searching for two missing cards.
The Billiken craze paralleled the 1908 Presidential election and political caricature postcards in Billiken's image were issued for both candidates William Bryan and William Taft. I have the William Bryan example with Bryan's head mounted on Billiken's body and the words, "Billibryanikin - The People's Idol."
In addition to postcards from the United States, I also have a vintage Japanese postcard and one postmarked in 1910 from London, England. I've written articles about Billiken published in both Postcard Collector Magazine and The BookThinker.
In addition to postcards, other examples of paper ephemera in my Billiken collection include a cigar label, a dance card and a trade card for Singer sewing machines.
I'm still searching for that elusive Billiken bookplate!
Here is my contact information should you have Billiken items for sale or trade: