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    

Huge Lot 100 Vintage Old Valentines Day Cards Animals Cute Heart Candy Boxes 60sHuge Lot 150 Vtg Greeting Cards Christmas Valentine Easter Mid Century Sled ... Vintage "won't You-all Be Mine - Black Americana!!" Valentine Greeting CardVintage 3d Pop-up Valentine Airplane Made In Germany To My ValentineVintage Valentine's Card Green Taxi Cab Is It Fare To Ask You To Be My ValentineVintage Greeting Card Valentine Halloween Cute Ghost CoupleAntique Victorian Fold Out Forget Me Not Valentine Cat In BasketVintage Valentine Halloween Card Unused Skeleton I Make No Bones NosVintage Christmas Card Mickey Mouse Donald Duck Snowman Valentine & Son DisneysAntique Late 1890s-1910's Valentines Card Fold Out Flower W/verses & Cupid ~2"! Target Dollar One Spot Valentine's Day Girl Black Dress Gift Bag For A5 PlannerVintage "loving Thoughts Stand-up - Germany!!" Valentine Greeting CardAntique Victorian St Valentine's Day Card Panel Display Hand Fan C. 1800's Lot Of Vintage Valentines Stand Ups Whitney GermanyVictorian 8 1/2" Antique Valentine Day Card Love Heart In Hand Pretty Young GirlLot Of 2 Vintage Childs Valentines 1951 1953 Hearts Ameri-card P-6566/1Lot Of 2 Vintage Childs Valentine Used Girl W/ Doll & Boy FishingLot Of 7 Vintage Children's Folded Valentine Day Cards~Vintage "i'm Ready For My Test - Motion!!" Valentine Greeting CardVintage "we 'auto' Get Along Together!!" Valentine Greeting CardVintage "i'm Looking For A Sweetheart - Honeycomb!!" Valentine Greeting Card3d Cat Greeting Invitation Card Birthday No Envelopes Valentines Xmas New Year 1940s Plane Train Automoble Die Cut Valentine Cards Lot School Teacher EstateMechanical Drill Blonde Lady Girl Working--vintage 1940s Valentine's Day Card!2 Wonderful 1930s Native American Valentines~7" Hi~printed In GermanyMechanical Vintage Valentine Elephant With Expanding NeckVictorian Pop Up Valentine With Honeycomb And Canoe With RosesMechanical Valentine With PainterVintage Stand Up Valentines, Lot Of 3 GermanyLeaf Shaped Valentine Vintage Valentines Day Card 3d HoneycombVintage Pop-up Victorian Valentine With Red Honeycomb, Girl & SailboatVintage Greeting Card Valentine Cute Angel Die-cutVintage Valentine - PollyVintage Childs' Valentine Card - Cat With Hat - Norcross Die Cut Card3d Cat Greeting Invitation Card Birthday Valentines Xmas New Year No Envelopes