Valentine’s Day, and the valentines we send to honor it, have an interesting past. Long before the Roman emperor Gelasius, and then the Catholic church, proclaimed February 14th a holy day named for the martyred St. Valentine (who refused to forsake Christianity while in prison and sent love letters signed “from your Valentine” to the jailer’s daughter), the ancient Romans had their own mid-winter celebrations of love — Lupercalia fertility festivals, during which young Roman males sacrificed goats and frolicked in goatskin loincloths, striking young women with goatskin thongs. (Attractive!)
Early famous senders of valentines include Charles, Duke of Orleans (like St. Valentine, also in prison) and King Henry V. In the early 1700s, valentine “writers”, or booklets of decorative verse, were all the rage. In the 1800s, people favored “Daguerreotype” valentines, based on the new tintype photos. The Victorian era ushered in valentines that were more similar to the ones we know today, helped along by new methods of printing and mass production and inexpensive “penny post” mailing.
This is a wonderful history of valentines and Valentine’s Day.
This is Charles, Duke of Orleans’ valentine, now in the British Museum.
Colorful, often mass-produced valentines really took off in the 1920s. Their popularity soared as children became increasingly involved in giving and receiving them. Some early valentines depicted household items, animals, professions and new modes of transportation and many employed fun puns and wordplay. Their heyday occurred during a wide swath of mid-20th century, before valentines largely became the province of licensed characters from TV and movies.
I’ve rounded up some of my favorite valentines by theme.
Food and Kitchen Valentines
More terrific vintage valentines can be seen at:
Vintage Valentine Museum
Seven Deadly Sinners
Here’s how to make your own fun and easy homemade valentines.
Still want more? See my: Vintage Valentines, Part 2