Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Patrick Lynch and the Signs of His Times

When I was a youngster,  the Ohio countryside was dotted with barns and sheds with large ads painted on their sides for Mail Pouch Tobacco.  Although faded now, those ads can still be seen.  Patrick Lynch, a whiskey dealer of St. Louis, Missouri, much earlier saw the merchandising value of putting his messages in big formats on the sides of buildings and, in his pre-Prohibition time, prospered greatly from those signs.

Lynch was born in Ireland in 1828 and apparently immigrated to the United States as a young man.  He first entered the public record in the 1860 census.  It found him living in the Third Ward of St. Louis with his wife,  Anna.  She was approximately nine years his junior and had been born in Ohio of Irish immigrant parents.  At that time the Lynches had one child,  age three. Patrick’s occupation was given as “salesman,”  likely for one of the many liquor stores extant in the city.  In 1862, at the age of 34, he joined forces with Charles A. Mantz,  a well-connected former St. Louis city official and businessman who also may have run a liquor store. The partners founded a wholesale liquor dealership at two locations, 39 South Main Street and 11th South Commercial.   In 1867,  Mantz & Lynch Co. moved to 110 South Main Street.

After a decade in business together Lynch’s partnership with Mantz was terminated in 1872 and the Irishman struck out on his own.   His flagship brand of whiskey was “Old Lynch Rye,” likely compounded and blended in his own facility.  He set out to advertise it as widely as possible.  One result is shown here, painted large on the slatted frame sides of Ernest L. Bader’s Saloon, located at 7200 North Broadway in St. Louis.  Lynch’s slogan for his rye blend was “The True Whiskey.”  Note that his ad appeared on two sides of the building and, if you look closely, it is also was painted on the door behind the two gents standing out front.

Lynch also spread his signage throughout Eastern Missouri and into Illinois  A “ghost sign” advertising Old Lynch Rye and Links Bar was found and photographed in Carlinville, a town of 6,000 about 50 miles north of St. Louis.  Further away was Irondale,  Missouri,  a village tucked in the Ozark Mountains about 70 miles south of St. Louis.   The town was established as a stop on the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railway about 1858.   The Depot Saloon, now an abandoned building, faced the tracks with an  Old Lynch Rye sign directed so that thirsty travelers would know where to head for a quick snort..  The ad now is very badly faded by time.

Ironton, Missouri, not to be confused with Irondale nearby, is the county seat of Iron County and adjacent to some of the highest peaks in the Ozark chain,  an region known as Arcadia Valley.  When a saloonkeeper of the town, agreed to stock Old Lynch Rye,  Patrick obliged him with a signboard covering the entire front of the establishment.  A local photographer took the picture and furnished it as a postcard.  The next image is from an illustration that appeared as an ad in a 1905 St. Louis newspaper.  It depicted a billboard within a country scene in which an Old Lynch Rye sign appeared as three slats nailed to a tree trunk.  On the right, off in the distance, was a barn with Old Lynch Rye painted large on the side.  Note that in just one ad Lynch has managed to cram multiple signs.

The three-slats-on-a-tree-trunk motif was closely identified with Lynch’s flagship brand.  He included the same image on labels of Old Lynch Rye and also on shot glasses. Like others in his trade, Lynch was prolific in his giveaway items.  They included shot glasses, tokens good in trade, and for saloons stocking his whiskey, a wall mounted match holder with a striker.  For the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904 in St. Louis, he issued a brochure that he called “A Complete Guide” to that World’s Fair.

Meanwhile Patrick had been getting on in his personal life.  The family shows up in the 1880 census where Lynch’s occupation was listed as “liquor merchant.”  He and Anna now had a tribe of five children, three girls and two boys, ranging in age from 21 to 6 years.  They had moved from the Third to the fancier Fifth Ward of St. Louis.  They had one young Irish girl as a servant in the household.

Widespread signage and other creative merchandising techniques paid off in prestige as well as financial gain for Lynch.  By 1885  he was not only selling his own brands, but was the wholesale representative of some of the best known Kentucky distilleries,  including E. H. Taylor Co. of Frankfort;  W. S. Hume of Silver Creek;  Burnham, Bennett Warwick of Madison County,  and J.S. Taylor of Franklin County.  Lynch also was importing wines and cognac from famous French houses.   Another specialty was California grape wine used for sacramental purposes by area churches.  An 1885 publication called “The Industries of St. Louis,” said of Lynch & Company” “...This house has resources that make it a sterling one in the trade of this vicinity.”

Success also seems to have kept Lynch and his business constantly on the move.  From 1878 until 1881, his store was located at 307 North Second Street.  The following year he moved to 303 N. Main Street,  at the southwest corner of its intersection with Olive Street.  From there Lynch & Company relocated to 206 South Fourth Street for two years (1888-1900) and then to 23 South Fourth, advertised as a block south of the Court House (1901-1909) and then on to St. Charles Street (1910-1915) .   Its last location was at 423 North Fourth Street in 1916. The following year the company disappeared forever from  St. Louis business directories.

At this point Patrick Lynch would have been 88 years old.  Missouri was not a state that had enacted prohibition laws before the national ban on alcohol.  Thus the termination may have been dictated by his age or even death.  In business for 54 years,  Lynch & Company had been hailed in the St. Louis history referenced earlier.  The author described Lynch’s firm as   “A house of high character;  against it, in all the long years during which it has flourished, not the breath of suspicion has been heard.  Its management is a fine sample of that old-fashioned integrity and courtesy....”

From the perspective of today these many years later, we recognize that many pre-Prohibition whiskey men largely disappeared from view without a trace when the ban on alcohol sales shut their premises.   By contrast, we can remember Patrick Lynch by the signs of his times,  some now faint and fading but still legible and still in our midst.

Note: I have had a thoughtful email from Robert Oswald who owns the building in Carlinville that bears the sign shown above.  He says he can't believe how well the sign is preserved.  Patrick Lynch undoubtedly would be proud to know that.


  1. Carlindale is actually Carlinville, a town of 6000 about 50iles N of St Louis. I own the building and can't believe how well preserved the painting remains.

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  2. Thanks for the information. I have one of their ads hanging up on my wall.
    Here is a picture of it:

    1. Thanks, John. Lynch had a good eye when it came to advertising. Jack

  3. Very interesting! Confirms some things in the family history and fills in some blanks. Looks like I will have to see the building in Carlinville. I have a bottle and shot glass with the company logo that were passed down by my grandparents. Patrick is my great great grandfather.
    M. J. Lynch, St. Louis, MO

  4. Dear Mr. Lynch: Thanks for being in touch about your ancestor. He was a genius for his billboard and signs -- and likely made wealthy by his efforts. I have Lynches in my wider family from Ohio. I believe they were neighbors in Ireland and may have come over to the US with my great grandfather. Jack