For centuries, early spring festivals have been a time to focus on young love. The snows melt away, the flowers begin to emerge, and the birds start to sing and court one another. Over time and through different cultural shifts, this general spring flings has become a single day dedicated to love and romance. Valentines Day is now celebrated around the world, but where did it all begin?
One can find poems penned by starry-eyed poets describing the assets of their dear “Valentine” as early as the 1400s, but where did that leave the less artistic beaus who sought to woo their beloveds?
Enter the Industrial era in the mid to late 1700s, which brought pre-printed Valentine’s Day cards and even books full of romantic verse for those who could not pen their own. This trade took off and by 1835, tens of thousands of cards were sent in Britain every year. Just five years later, postage stamps became common and that brought a huge increase, with hundreds of thousands of cards being sent every year!
The postage stamp also brought a new wrinkle to the Valentine game - anonymity. Suddenly, shy beaus could send “secret” Valentines and the saucy folks could send racy or rude messages without fear of retribution. Enter the “Vinegar Valentines,” insults set to verse. These cards were sent to old maids, doctors, rude salespeople, and even an undesired wooer. For a more complete history of the Victorian-era “Vinegar Valentines”, you can read this article from Atlas Obscura, which goes into an interesting branch of the mean missives - Suffragette Postcards.
The commercialization of the holiday has only but increased, with school children giving and receiving cards from one another, family members exchanging candy, flowers, and cards, and romantic partners now relying on fancier tricks to display their appreciation.
Take a walk down memory lane with these sweet (and occasionally sour) Valentine’s cards and ephemera from sellers on Biblio.