Valentine’s Day

No one knows the true origins of Valentine’s Day.  Some believe that because the Romans observed Lupercalia on February 14th celebrating a nature deity, that birds chose their mates around that date. 

 

 

Others believe that Valentinus, who had a far different experience with the Romans (martyrdom), sent a letter of affection to his jailer’s daughter on the eve of his execution.  There is, of course, no evidence that any of this is true.

What IS true, is that people have observed Valentine’s Day for centuries, since at least the 1600s, and that it was the Victorians that made it into the celebration we recognize today.

 

 

In 1840, when England introduced the Uniform Penny Post, the sending of valentines really took off.  Before this, sending anything by mail was expensive, and always paid for by the recipient of the missive (the original cash on delivery).  Now, letters (and valentines) could be mailed anywhere in Great Britain for one penny.  In 1841, nearly half a million valentines were posted in England.  By 1871, that number grew to 1.2 million cards.  The postmen were even allotted a special refreshment allowance to help ease their burden around February 14.

 

Valentine cards were most often handmade, and included lace, embossed papers, foils, and pressed grasses and flowers.  Even the mass-produced cards included homemade elements.  Victorian valentines were usually sent anonymously; it was thought the valentine itself would be message enough, although some cards could be folded in such a way as to hold “secret” messages.

“I am lost in admiration as I gaze
Upon they graceful form,
For beauty glows in thy fair face,
And all thy movements charm.” 

    –  Thos. Dean and Sons, 1860s.

 

 

 

The 1864 card (shown right) uses pictures, much as we would use emojis today. 

“Adored one, in silence I must bear the burthen of my love.  I dare not speak, else I could tell how I adore thee. ….”

 

Valentine by Esther Howland.

 

 

 

 

Here in the United States, Esther Howland of Massachusetts began making valentine cards when she received one from England.  Esther’s father had a stationery shop, so she was able to sell her creations from there, using lace and floral decorations.

 

 

 

Valentine’s Day cards were very popular by the mid-1850’s, when the New York Times published what we would call an op-ed on February 14, 1856, decrying the practice:

“Our beaux and belles are satisfied with a few miserable lines, neatly written upon fine paper, or else they purchase a printed Valentine with verses ready made, some of which are costly and many of which are cheap and indecent.  In any case, whether decent or indecent, they only please the silly and give the vicious an opportunity to develop their propensities and place them, anonymously, before the comparatively virtuous.  The custom with us has no useful feature, and the sooner it is abolished, the better.”

Bah humbug!

Image © Royal Pavilion and Museums,
Brighton & Hove

 

 

One wonders if perhaps the person who penned this opinion was the recipient of a so-called Vinegar Valentine, also popular in the Victorian era.  Rather than verses sweet, some valentines expressed other sentiments:

“Here’s a pretty cool reception,
At least you’ll say there’s no deception,
It says as plain as it can say,
Old fellow you’d best step away.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Tis a lemon that I hand you
And bid you now “skiddoo”
Because I love another –
There is no chance for you!”

 

Image © Royal Pavilion and Museums,
Brighton & Hove

 

 

 

And what was good for the goose could be good for the gander.

Why do they call you a nasty old cat,
And say many things a deal ruder than that,
‘Tis from envy perhaps of your manifold graces,
How would it not please you to claw well their faces.

 

 

 

 

Thankfully, such mean valentines are no longer popular today! And Historic Jacksonville is feeling anything but mean.  

So here’s wishing you a Happy Valentine’s Day, the pleasure of feeling loved, and time with your loved ones!

Some roses are red,
Bees live in a hive,
Historic Jacksonville delights
In bringing history alive!

 


Sources Cited:

James, David. “Valentine’s Day in the Victorian Era.” 5-Minute History, 20 May 2017, fiveminutehistory.com/valentines-day-in-the-victorian-era

Golden, Catherine. “Guest Post: Love and Derision; Or, Valentine’s Day Victorian Style.” Guest Post: Love and Derision; Or, Valentine’s Day Victorian Style | National Postal Museum, 12 Feb. 2010, postalmuseum.si.edu/node/1841. 

“Victorian Valentine’s Day Cards.” HistoryExtra, 13 Feb. 2015, www.historyextra.com/period/victorian/victorian-valentines-day-cards/. 

McNamara, Robert. “History of St. Valentine’s Day in the 1800s.” ThoughtCo, 9 Feb. 2018, www.thoughtco.com/history-of-st-valentines-day-1800s-1773915. 

“Free Thinking – Eight Incredibly Offensive Victorian Valentines.” BBC Radio 3, BBC, www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/34JCKJtrl07f5kY3G9kFNpd/eight-incredibly-offensive-victorian-valentines. 

Ponti, Crystal. “Victorian-Era ‘Vinegar’ Valentines Could Be Mean and Hostile.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 10 Feb. 2020, www.history.com/news/victorian-valentines-day-cards-vinegar. 

 


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