Saint Valentine, a legendary ancient Christian said to have been persecuted by the Roman Empire, didn't become associated with romance and love until 1382, when English poet Geoffrey Chaucer wrote, "For this was Saint Valentine's Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate."

Over the next four centuries, Saint Valentine, as well as the date, February 14, became more and more entwined with the concepts of courtly love and romantic poetry. The trend was popular throughout Europe, but England really ran with the idea, as lovers in the late 1700s would exchange sentimental verses on this day. In 1797, a book entitled “The Young Man’s Valentine Writer” came out to help frustrated would-be suitors. Victorian publishers even began to put out limited numbers of “mechanical valentines” printed with poems and drawings, as a decline in postal rates encouraged the practice of mailing Valentines. This also allowed “secret admirers” to send racy verses or limericks via post.

Naturally, Valentine's Day exploded in popularity under the reign of wildly romantic and sentimental Queen Victoria. In the mid-1800s “Fancy” Valentines adorned with real lace, paper lace, and ribbons were assembled in factories as the British spent 1 billion pounds a year on Valentines gifts like cards, flowers, and chocolates.

Over in the United States, Esther Howland received a Valentine from a British man her father knew through business in 1847. Intrigued by the idea, she began importing the materials and hand-producing her own versions to sell in America, and the idea took off like wildfire. In 1881, Howland retired and sold her business to George C. Whitney.

In the 1880s, offset lithography made less-personal mass-produced cards cheaper to make, and printers began to churn them out—first as postcards, and later as folded greeting cards. Some of the most popular mass-produced cards of that era were made by children’s book writer and illustrator Kate Greenaway, as well as Frances Brundage, Charles Twelvetrees, and Ellen H. Clapsaddle.

Using die-cut techniques, these cards might come in the shape of fans, crescent moons, bells, birds, flowers, and hearts, or have such shapes pop out of the center. Brundage, in particular, often drew caricatures of American and Dutch people that reflected the attitudes of the era.

In London, Raphael Tuck—with its Royal Warrant of Appointment from Queen Victoria herself—was perhaps the most esteemed paper company in turn-of-the-century England, producing greeting cards, paper dolls and toys, and children’s books. Tuck’s most successful Valentines are its “marionette” cards—featuring paper dolls with arms and legs that move—and their “hidden honeycomb” cards with 3-D hearts that open up like a honeycomb when the card is unfolded...

Lest you think the Victorians were always big saps, the turn-of-the-century Suffragettes jumped on the opportunity to trumpet their cause for the right of women to vote in cheeky Valentines cards, while anti-Suffragettes spread their message via the same medium.

Back in the U.S., Hallmark greeting card company was founded in 1910 in Kansas City, Missouri, and quickly became the biggest name in U.S. Valentine’s Day cards, eventually forming a lucrative partnership with Walt Disney for the rights to use his beloved cartoon characters on Hallmark products.

Another popular American Valentine’s Day card artist of the era was Grace Drayton, who drew children with particularly large heads and eyes. She created similar characters for her comic book strips and paper dolls, as well as for advertisers such as Campbell Soup Company, for whom she created the Campbell Kids.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

The Scrap Album

The Scrap Album

Malcolm Warrington’s The Scrap Album is a handsomely organized site, as you’d expect from an articulate champio… [read review or visit site]

Non Sports Cards: Tobacco, Gum and Candy

Non Sports Cards: Tobacco, Gum and Candy

Tom Boblitt moderates this extremely deep, collaborative site dedicated to non-sports cards (tobacco, gum and candy… [read review or visit site]

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage Greeting Card Lot 200 Cards Valentine Christmas Child Mid Century Cards Victorian Valentine Card By Mansell Gilded Cupid Emerging From Rose Love TokenVictorian Valentine Cards. C1850-70. Victorian Valentine Card Opening Letter The Best Companion Victorian Valentine Card Really Beautfull Clean Opening Example Victorian Valentine Card Mansell Opening Hand Painted Embossed Paper 65 Vintage Valentines In Sealed Package Nib By Lustre BriteVictorian Valentine Cards. C1870. Victorian Valentine Card By Wood Pub. 4 Sided Silver Gilded Perfume SachetAlfred E Newman Mad Magazine Don't Worry Valentine Greeting Card 1961Vintage 1940s Valentine Cards Lot Of 58 Most Die-cut, Flocked, Glitter - EstateVintage Pop Up Valentines Day Card1939 Valentine Nos Walt Disney Pinocchio Mechanical Riding In Stagecoach Victorian Valentine Card S Marks & Sons Woodcut Hand Painted Early Opening Victorian Valentine Card Silver Cupid Locked Heart Paperlace Victorian Valentine Card J T Wood Early The Wish Of A FriendVintage Valentine Lot 1920's - 1930's Assorted Styles - Moving, Honeycomb, Etc.Victorian Valentine Cards. C1870.Lot Of 10 Vintage Valentines From The 1930's/40's Some Foldout FiremanVictorian Valentine Cards. C1870.Vintage Unused Valentine ~ Teapot~3 Vintage Embossed Die Cut Stand Up Honeycomb Valentine-germany Antique Vintage Used Valentine Cards Scrap Craft Lot German Die Cuts 1939 Valentine Nos Walt Disney Mechanical Geppetto Seeking Pinocchio On Raft4 Vintage Greeting Cards Moveable Stand Up Valentines Day Christmas Free Ship1940's 1950's Era = 40 Punch Out Valentines And Make Up BookVintage Lot 235 Greeting Cards Birthday Valentine Easter Album Scrap Book1939 Valentine Nos Disney Pinocchio Mechanical Merry Go Round 36 Vintage Kid Greeting Cards Valentines Teacher Sweet Valentine HeartsVintage Valentines Cards With Envelopes Teacher Ones Too Lot Of 30Pete Hawley Vintage Valentine Card Darling NieceVintage 1920's Stand Up Die Cut Valentine's Greeting CardAntique Valentine's Day Greeting Card My Wife Loving Vintage - 1940s Vintage Valentines Day Card Dc Comics Inc 1980 Wonder Woman & Superman UnusedTo My Valentine Embossed Post Card Boy And Two Girls In Car Must See 190819th Century French Valentine Cards.Vintage Greeting Card Valentines Day Vintage 11802Vintage Greeting Card Valentines Day Vintage 11617Vintage Greeting Card Valentines Day Vintage 5312Antique Scrapbooking ~old Valentines Day Greeting Cards~vintage Card Lot 1930s +Vintage Valentine---deco Style-*-with Love To My Sweetheart*-original1920 - 50 Vintage 50 Greeting & Trade Card Christmas Valentines Day Misc LotValentine Mechanical Pilot Waving Heart Flowers On Airplane I Turn Right To UVintage Lot Of 24 All Valentines Day Cards Die Cut Many Kids 60's - 70's1920 - 50 Vintage 26 Greeting & Trade Card Christmas Valentines Day Misc Lot Victorian Valentine Card By Kershaw The Rose Verse And Hand ColourVintage Valentines Card Anthropomorphic Boxing Gloves "you Are A Knock Out!"Vintage Valentines Card Anthropomorphic Pan & Coffee Pot I'll Flip My Lid Lot Of 7 1950's Vintage Valentines Greeting Cards - Scrapbooking, Paper CraftVintage Valentines - Printed In Germany - Movable Parts #505Vintage Valentines Day Card Space Boy & Dog Blue Rocket A Real Blast UnusedVintage Valentines Day Card Boy Magician Card Tricks Unused Nothing Up My SleeveVintage Valentine's Day Card "yup! You're The Pardner" Cowboy Cowgirl Art OldUsed Vintage Greeting Cards Circa 1940's, 50's & 60's, Valentines, Birthday, EtcVintage Greeting Card Valentines Day Vintage 9796Vintage Greeting Card Valentines Day Vintage 9690Vintage Valentine Cards Lot Collection 1880 1920's Rare Vintage Greeting Card Valentines Day Vintage 2412Vintage Greeting Card Valentines Day Vintage 4971Vintage Greeting Card Valentines Day Vintage 4058