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Vintage Valentines

Remembering Romance From Days Gone By


Boy with valentine for girl
Constance Bannister Corp/Archive Photos/Getty Images
While romantic Valentine greetings were popular as far back as the Middle Ages, when lovers said or sang their valentine verses, the first paper valentine is usually attributed to the imprisoned Charles, Duke of Orleans, who in 1415 fought his lonely confinement by writing romantic verses for his wife. By the sixteenth century written valentines had grown popular across much of Europe. Miniature works of art, the earliest Valentines were handmade, and usually lavishly embellished with ribbon, cutouts, flowers, gold leaf, and other pretties. These beautiful valentines were then hand-delivered, as the cost of sending mail prior to the mid-1800s was far beyond the means of the average person.

Commercial valentines first found their way to the European marketplace in the late 1830s when advances in printing and die-cutting technology made possible mass production of elaborate cards. Possibly responding to the Victorian culture which discouraged direct expressions of love, sweethearts began to buy cards for each other on a scale unprecedented for any correspondence item in history.

In America, Esther A. Howland of Worcester, Massachusetts, is credited with being the "Mother of the American Valentine." In 1847, she began making elaborate, lacy handmade valentines in her home, using one of the first assembly lines, building her business into sales of $100,000 a year. In 1847! Her Valentines were unique - with multi-layered effects, colored paper set beneath intricate lace, and verses included on the inside of the card. These beautiful Valentines sold for as much as $30, at that time often enough to purchase a horse and buggy.

From the mid-1800's to the early 1900's, many people sent comic valentines known as Vinegar Valentines or Penny Dreadfuls. As their name implies, these cards sold for a penny. They were not beautiful, ornate or romantic, quite the opposite. The artwork was comical and poor and they featured bawdy or insulting verses. Most often they were sent anonymously to people who were not liked.

Vintage Valentines on the Web

Antique Valentine eCards
Vintage Valentines to send and savor from the collection of About Honeymoons Guide, Susan Breslow Sardone.

Vintage Valentines
A beautiful, romantic collection of vintage valentines to view or send as an ecard, from the West Virginia Regional History Collection.

Antique Valentine eCards
Free images of vintage valentines to send to your favorite someone by email, from Collectibles Guide Barbara Crews.

Electronic Antique Romantic Postcards
Most of these free antique postcard images deal with romance or Valentine's Day.

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