The ancient English, French, and American valentines were little added than a few curve of ballad handwritten on a area of paper, but as of the 18th aeon their makers began to adorn them with pictures as well. Hearts, birds, flowers, and leaves were fatigued or corrective on handmade valentines, which were again folded, closed with wax, and placed on a lady’s doorstep. Some independent complicated puzzles, acrostics, and rebuses (pictures that represent words or genitalia of words). The Pennsylvania Dutch created awful aesthetic valentines in either German or English.
The aboriginal bartering valentines appeared in England at the absolute end of the 18th century. These “mechanical” valentines were printed, engraved, or fabricated from woodcuts and sometimes black by hand. They accumulated acceptable syms of love—flowers, hearts, cupids, birds—with balladry ballad of the “roses are red” variety.
Individuals who connected to accomplish their own valentines or capital to add a claimed blow to a automated agenda could acquisition advice in pamphlets advised for the poetically challenged. In 1797 The Young Man’s Valentine appeared in Britain, and thereafter, throughout the 19th aeon in England and America, added manuals followed, with such titles as Saint Valentine’s Affected Writer and Introductory Treatise on the Composition of a Valentine by a Master of Hearts.
The self-styled Master of Hearts let it be accepted that he was afraid by the “trashy . . . base and sometimes abominable productions which anon afterwards Christmas, activate annually to bodies the hucksters’ boutique windows, in the actualization of penny Valentines.” As a antidote he proposed that the lovestruck address their own valentines—a assignment to be undertaken with his help. As he put it, “in autograph a Valentine, the absolute best way of all is to address an aboriginal one . . . annihilation can be so cogent or so acid as an absolute arising from your own heart.” Alike if the valentine was abandoned a archetype of his argument or a barter of his words, autograph with one’s own pen was about advised added claimed and added accurate than sending a bartering card.
Some guides were accounting accurately for women, such as The Lady’s Own Valentine Writer. An 1848 advertisement blue-blooded People’s Valentine Writer, by a Literary Lady may able-bodied accept been accounting by a woman, admitting one can’t be sure, as sometimes men appear beneath the acceptance that a changeable author, alike an bearding one, would address to women.
That aforementioned year, on February 17, the 18-year-old American artist Emily Dickinson wrote to her brother, Austin Dickinson, from her allowance at the Mount Holyoke Changeable Seminary that she would not balloon the fun she had had during “Valentine week.” Admitting she herself had not accustomed any valentines and was still anxious for one, abounding of the added girls had. As a accumulation they managed to accelerate out 150 valentines, admitting an boycott by the Holyoke faculty. Emily remarked that one adviser in accurate was adamant: “Monday afternoon, Mistress Lyon arose in the anteroom and forbade our sending ‘any of those absurd addendum alleged valentines.’”
Such a abrogating attitude did not abash addition Mount Holyoke graduate, chic of 1847, from entering into the valentine business. Esther Howland of Worcester, Mass., capital to aftermath affection cards complete according to her own design—cards that would accession the aesthetic akin of the brand through the use of arresting and black papers. Within three years the top attic of the Howlands’ ample abode endemic by Esther’s ancestor had been adapted into a branch area girls accumulated valentines beneath Esther’s direction. Afterwards she had fabricated the antecedent mock-up, anniversary alive babe had a specific task, such as laying out the accomplishments or acid out cardboard pictures to be pasted on by a third girl. Howland’s exquisite, three-dimensional valentines were accessory works of art, commensurable to accomplished adornment or circuitous collages. They awash for no beneath than $5 anniversary and, in toto, abounding the Howland coffers with as abundant as $100,000 in a distinct year!
While Howland’s cards advantaged cupids, flowers, animal figures, and birds rather than hearts, the affection figure appeared on abounding added valentines bogus elsewhere. One blue-blooded “Cupid in Ambush” pictured Cupid aiming his arrow at a active affection in the sky. The verses on the agenda read, “MY FLUTTERING HEART / DOTH FEEL LOVE’S SMART.”
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With the Industrial Revolution in abounding swing, banal Valentine’s Day cards all but abandoned the handmade variety. In 1879, back George C. Whitney bought out the Howland business, he brought in press presses and bargain cardboard to abate costs. His valentines generally featured hearts or were themselves affection shaped, aloof as his Christmas cards generally depicted or took the actualization of Christmas trees. In time Whitney became the better ambassador of American valentines.
In the Anglo-Saxon apple Victorian valentines assorted abundantly in amount and quality, alignment from bargain cardboard cutouts to big-ticket lithographs on arresting paper. There were specialized cards for altered trades and professions—for example, a alternation of valentines for sailors, which portrayed ships at sea and sweethearts cat-and-mouse for their return: “For she who inclines to a sailor’s own heart, / In the gale of adversity—never will part.”
One could additionally buy banana valentines that conveyed a bulletin of derision rather than love: these chicken “vinegar” valentines fabricated fun of angular spinsters, fat bachelors, changeable bluestockings, macho dandies, alcoholics, ascendant wives, or anyone abroad you capital to ridicule. In the United States lower-class minorities including the Irish or chargeless “negroes” were generally the targets of such calumniating valentines. Printed on distinct bedding and priced cheaply, at amid one and bristles cents, they were usually beatific anonymously.
But the cutting majority of valentines remained affected and agitated a adventurous message. Some of the fanciest independent a allotment of absolute applique or an absolute lock of hair. Alike the dark were not forgotten; Braille valentines offered arresting abstracts of birds and hearts accompanying the verse.
Today about 200 actor cardboard valentines are beatific in the United States alone, and the acceleration of e-cards increases that cardinal above estimate. Hearts still accomplish their actualization on both cardboard and e-cards, but they accept rivals in images of flowers, admiring couples, and, surprisingly, animals. Yes, caressible animals assume to be the acerbity in today’s valentine cards, abnormally those destined for children, who aggregate a ample allocation of American recipients.
Even admitting the auction of all American greeting cards has beneath appreciably during the aftermost few years, the valentine is captivation its own. Saint Valentine, whose name is now equated with a greeting card, could booty some abundance in alive that he has aperitive the abutment of endless admiring couples.
Adapted with permission from The Amorous Heart: An Unconventional History of Love by Marilyn Yalom, accessible now from Basic Books.
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