Vintage Valentines

 Vintage Valentines
Pop-up valentine printed in Germany. The donor and date are unknown.

Twenty-two vintage valentines were displayed at the Rosenberg Library during the month of February. The valentines date from 1818 through the 1920s.

Origin of Valentine’s Day

A great deal of mystery surrounds the origins of Valentine’s Day. Valentine was a Catholic priest who lived in Rome in the third century A.D. During this time, persecuted Christians were forced to renounce their faith or face severe penalties, including death. Emperor Claudius II also called for a ban on all engagements and marriages because he believed that only single men would willingly dedicate their lives as soldiers for the Roman Empire. Refusing to abandon his role as a holy man, Valentine continued to perform marriage ceremonies in secret. The emperor, however, soon became aware of this disobedience. Valentine’s defiant acts were rewarded with a death sentence, and he was beaten and beheaded on the 14th of February, around 270 A.D. For this reason, Valentine came to be known as the patron saint of love and marriage, and February 14th became recognized as his feast day.

 Vintage Valentines
Circular, cut-out valentine from 1818. It was a handmade gift from George Huffmaster to his sweetheart. Donated by Mrs. Lucius Gooch. To read the verse written around the periphery, scroll to the bottom of the page.

Valentine’s Day and the Feast of Lupercalia

Before the rise of Christianity, the Roman people celebrated a pagan ritual known as the Feast of Lupercalia. Each year, around the middle of February, Roman maidens gathered in the public square and placed their names in an urn. Unmarried Roman men would draw names, and whichever maidens they chose became their lovers for the upcoming year. As Christianity began to spread in Europe during later centuries, great efforts were made to end these types of pagan rites. Since the feast day of St. Valentine fell during mid-February, and he was known to be an advocate for sweethearts and married couples, it is believed the Feast of Lupercalia evolved into Valentine’s Day as we now know it.

The History of Valentine Cards
The earliest written valentine (now in the collection of the British Museum) is attributed to Charles, Duke of Orleans, who was serving time in the Tower of London in 1415. While in prison, he wrote rhymed love letters and sent them to his wife back in France. Another early valentine card was composed by the fifteenth-century English poet, John Lydgate, at the request of Henry V, King of England. The king commissioned Lydgate to create a romantic prose for his future wife, Catherine of Valois.

 Vintage Valentines
Valentine card printed in Germany. The arm holding the bow moves back and forth. Donated by Herbert L. Ganter.

Valentine cards became enormously popular during the Victorian era. Advancements in printing technology brought about the transformation of valentines from simple, handwritten notes to ornate and beautiful works of art. During the early nineteenth century, paper manufacturers and stationers created valentine greetings embellished with lace, silk or satin ribbons, and hand-painted designs. Some valentine makers used perfumed paper and incorporated elaborate gilding, silvering, and embossing techniques to their work.

While paper-makers in England and Germany had been producing valentines for decades, the first domestic valentine cards were created by Esther Howland, the daughter of a successful Massachusetts stationer, in 1848. What began as a small-scale craft project in her family’s home eventually grew into the New England Valentine Company, American’s first commercial valentine manufacturing firm. Howland sold her business to George C. Whitney during the 1880s, and the Whitney Company continued to produce valentine greetings until wartime paper shortages forced it to close in 1942. Today, worldwide sales of valentine cards are second only to those of Christmas cards.

The verse written from the 1818 circular, cut-out valentine:
Sweet Vallentine think not amiss
Your humble servant sent you this
The fourteenth day of february the lot was mine
To draw you for my vallentine
We first cast lots and then we drew
And fortune said it must be you
I drew you from amonghst the rest
The reason was I loved you best
And if you take it in good heart
I shall be glad with all my heart
But if you take it in disdain
I pray you send this back agane
But if you except the same
A pair of gloves it is my clame
As sure as the grapes grows on the vine
I drew you for my vallentine
The rose is red violets blue
The lilles fair and so are you
The ring is round and hath no end
So is my love for you my dier friend

Past Treasures