Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Antique Valentines

      Wikipedia says that Valentine's Day was originally set to honor several possible Christian martyrs that were named Valentine. It is widely assumed that the linkage of St. Valentine's Day to romantic love occurred in the 14th century when Chaucer seemed to refer to it in some of his writing. However the spelling in Chaucer's verse, given its origin in Old English, may not refer to Valentine's Day. Shakespeare in the 16th century definitely refers to St. Valentine's Day as a celebration of romantic love, and refers to someone being a Valentine in Ophelia. It was not until the late 18th century and early 19th century that valentine cards began to be sent as indications of affection. 

     In 1797, the Young Man's Valentine Writer was published in Britain which contained suggested sentimental verses for the young lover to send to his beloved if he could not compose his own. At first, handmade real lace and ribbon Valentines were hand delivered with such sentimental verse. But in the mid 1800's as postal efficeincy increased and then a reduction in postal rates allowed easy exchange of Valentine greetings, these Valentines changed to paper. This remained popular in Britain and then swept the United States as the first mass-produced valentines of embossed paper lace were produced after 1847. Esther Howland of Worcester, Massachusetts (1828-1904) produced and sold many of these early valentines.
       To the left and above is a Valentine card from the 1960s. The cute puppy has glittery flocked pants. Below is another Valentine from the 1960s which is mailed in its folded state and then opens to show its whole message.

 Early valentine greetings that were sent in the United States were often printed in Germany. A common  type of valentine then was the diecut form. These were often intricate and colorful with several attached layers that folded out to give a 3D effect. Following are several of these three dimensional fold out German Valentines. The first two folded out to make a square base for standing up.

     The next Valentines lie flat when mailed with a message on the folded up base. When opened, the base folds down and the diecut three dimensions fold out for standing up on the folded down base. The smaller Valentines are pictured in smaller scale. They are also colorful diecut cards also printed in Germany. Some of them have gromets which allow moving pieces. These are called mechanical Valentines and are very popular as well.  All of these date to the 1920s. It was as Valentines first became so popular in the United States that Germany filled the void and shipped 100,000s of these delightful creations to America.


      Early American valentines were mass printed by Whitney and later by a company called Carrington. Around 1900, vinegar vallentines became common. These were cartoonish and often had rather vitriolic verses--sort of a pre-Don Richols type of humor. Circa 1920s mechanical valentines were common with either a single or multiple gromets allowing moving parts to be part of the valentine design. Mechanical antique valentines are very popular collectors items today as are the German diecuts.

     The Valentines below are produced by Whitney Printers in Worcester, MA. Sumner Whitney operated a stationary store where he and his wife sold handmade valentines for some time. Then a brother Edward and later after the Civil War ended George, another brother, joined Sumner in the valentine and stationary business. Sumner died and Edward withdrew leaving George the sole proprietor. By 1888, George Whitney had bought out ten major American valentine producers. Esther Howland and Jotham Taft also made Valentines out of Worcester, MA, making this city the center of American valentine production for the late 19th and early 20th century. Below are several examples of Whitney valentines from the 1920s. Earlier Whitney valentines had paper lace attached as well producing window like effects and the illusion of 3 dimensions.

     Carrington Card Company of Chicago, IL is responsible for Valentine's day cards and valentines of a slightly later time period than the Whitney valentines. Below is a Carrington valentine from about 1929.

The Valentine to the right is also from Carrington, but the style is very much like Whitney valentines.

     The following valentines are also from my mother's collection, therefore from the 1920s. I can not find similar valentines on the Internet, and there is no indication of the printers of these, nor even what country they come from. All are cut in the shape of various items that match the clever verses. They are most entertaining.

Above is a very interesting valentine from Germany. It pictures a little Dutch boy. His pantaloons raise up over his face and deliver the valentine message in the heart shape.

     From the 1940s onward, children gave each other valentines in school as part of the celebration. Do you remember covering and decorating a shoe box with a slit cut in the top so that classmates could distribute valentines to all the other children. Alternatively a large box was decorated by the entire class. All the valentines were put into that box and later distributed. These practices guaranteed  that millions of valentines would be mass produced on inexpensive thin paper throughout the following decades. Fancier mailed cards were available during this time with fold out tissue paper honeycomb shapes that gave the valentines real three dimensions and were very decorative. The following valentines date from the 1950's. Some are very attractive. Some are humorous. There are several flocked valentines which came in sheets that needed to be cut apart and folded. Even the envelopes were cut apart and folded.


     I have a very extensive old valentine collection starting with those that were sent by my parents in the 1920s and ending with some modern Starwars valentines. I have posted examples of these various styles of valentines on this website. These few are only a small percentage of my holdings. Peruse and enjoy.

     Below is my final valentine for this year: It is rather unusual and would be welcome in anyone's collection of ephemera. It is a Valentine's paper doll set, constructed as a Valentine's Day greeting card. I received this from my grandmother, but I saved it instead of cutting out the paper dolls. Uncut paper doll sets are very unusual in ephemera collections for obvious reasons. So here is the card front and how it looks unfolded.

Happy Valentine's Day


1 comment:

  1. So Hallmark didn't create Valentine's Day - they just cash in on it! Still it's a day we can reflect on the people we love in our lives and tell them how special they are.