All images are original Victorian Valentines in my collection.
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When and where did St. Valentine's Day begin?
Ancient Romans celebrated Lupercalia on February 14th. It was a festival that involved a lottery where young men and women were paired off. It was also believed that birds chose their mates for spring on February 14th!
The legends of an early Christian martyr named St. Valentine cannot be proved. Some say St. Valentine was an early clergyman who performed secret marriages for Roman soldiers, who were banned from marrying during the reign of Claudius II.
During the times of Chaucer and Shakespeare, romantic love became associated with our current notion of St. Valentine's Day. Eventually, the date of February 14th was again revived.
Before 1800, Valentines were mostly handwritten love poems and notes of affection. Valentine cards became wildly popular in England after the turn of the 19th century, and mailing them became easier when the British government standardized postage rates.
Die-cut paper lace was invented in 1834. In the United States, Valentine cards were first printed commercially in 1846. Esther Howland was the young daughter of a well-established stationer in Worcester, Massachusetts. After receiving a beautiful Valentine card from England, she decided to produce a few on her own in 1847. Her business grew, and employed female workers who hand-assembled valentines cards. She eventually sold her business in 1881.
Even though 19th century Valentine cards were mass-produced, they contained glued-on ribbons, scrap, feathers, beads, dried flowers and laces. Many have survived over time because they were cherished, and were pasted into scrap albums. They were works of art, often containing paper hinges that allowed layers of the Valentine to pop forward with a 3D effect, or pull forward using paper honeycombs, so they could be displayed on parlor tables.
After the turn of the 20th century and during the great World Wars, Valentine cards became a thing of the past. After WWII, the custom was revived as a way for school children to exchange cards, and today it has once again become an adult romantic holiday!
Some interesting facts:
• In Great Britain, gloves were a popular Valentine gift, and often were given as a marriage proposal.
• English illustrators Kate Greenaway and Walter Crane both created some of the more favorite and collectible Valentine cards.
• Richard Cadbury created the first Valentine box of chocolates in 1868.
• NECCO (New England Confectionery Company) popularized the conversation candy hearts in 1902, but their predecessor came up with similar imprinted candies in 1866.
Be sure to check out these links to learn more about the history of the Victorian Valentine and to see some lovely examples:
Valentine Cards at the Lilly Library, Indiana University