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 Mixed Lot Valentine's Day Cards Used Scrapbook Full Christmas Greeting2 Antique Victorian Valentine Cards C. 1850-60 Meek, Silk Flowers, Gold Foil 70+ Vtg Assorted Greeting Cards 1920s-40s. Dogs, Flowers, Easter, Valentine, EtcAntique Victorian Mechanical Valentine Card Inside WheelLarge Lot Vintage Die Cut Flower Fruit Valentine Cards 19005 Antique Victorian Valentine Cards Dobs Kidd Twig Switch, Kershaw C. 1850-602 Antique Victorian Valentine Cards Handmade Sulman, Meek W/ Lift Tabs4 Antique Victorian Valentine Cards Windsor, Mansell Feathers C. 1855-62Huge Lot Of 70 1940s Vintage Greeting Cards Christmas Valentine Birthday & Mor2 Antique Victorian Valentine Cards Wood, Windsor, Dried Flowers, Gold FoilMechanical Vintage Valentine Lot, #14 Cards, All Mechanical. Antique Victorian Valentine Card W/ Original Envelope Wood-whitney ColorfulLot Of 6 Vintage Valentines Valentine L@@k5 Antique Victorian Valentine Cards Mansell, Wood, Handmade C. 1845-50Hanging 3-heart Vintage Die Cut Valentine - A Token Of LoveAntique Victorian Valentine Card Boy & Girl Dressed Up Dancing Black AmericanaVintage 1950's Circus Lion Trainer Valentine Greeting Card Usa In EnvelopeMechanical Vintage Valentines, Lot Of 8 Cards...all Mechanical.Vintage "now I Ain't 'lion' I'm Wild About You - Motion! Valentine Greeting CardAntique Valentine's Day Card Harley Davidson Motorcycle Mechanical Vintage Bike5 Antique Victorian Valentine Cards Post-1889 Layers Lace Foil Printed VersesUsed Vintage Valentine's Card - Little Girl With Glittery HatVtg. Norcross Valentine's Day Card-anthropomorphic Tea Pot-for Grandma-die-cutVintage "you Need A Stronger Truck My Lad 8x9" - Motion! Valentine Greeting Card25 Pop-up & Movable Greeting Cards 1940s-60s.valentines, Bears, Dogs, Ducks, EtcVintage Pretty Little Girl Peep Hole Valentine Greeting Card Hallmark French FolAntique Victorian Valentine Card By WoodHuge Vintage Mechanical Valentine's Day Card Pig Dog Riding GoatVintage Greeting Card Valentine Cute Girl Tea Party Dolls ToysVintage Greeting Card Valentine Easter Hallmark Girl Bunny RabbitVintage Greeting Card Valentine Cute Cat Kitten Heart Norcross Double WishVintage Valentine Day Card - I'm Pin-ning My Hopes On You, ValentineVintage Unused Valentine Card Native American Indian Painting Pot NosVintage "how Do You Do Grandma Says Mrs. Goose!! Valentine Greeting CardUnused Vtg Valentines Day Card Cute Kissy Face Kissy Kitten Ruth MoreheadVintage "everyone 'nose' I Love You - Motion!! Valentine Greeting CardVintage "my Heart Beats Just For You - Motion!! Valentine Greeting CardStanding Decorative Cute Cat Greetings Card Birthday Valentines Get Well GiftAntique Vintage Lot 6 Cute Little Couples Valentine Card Greetings NiceVintage Card Sugar Cube & Spoon Anthropomorphic Valentine's Day French FoldVintage Cute Girl Trifold Valentine Greeting Card Wife Hallmark Hall Bros 1948Vintage Postcard Lot Of 5 Valentine Cards Cupid Blacksmith Hearts Early 1900s Cute Gray Kitten Apron Baking Heart Cake Vintage Whitman Valentine Greeting CardElegant 1920's Norcross "silhouette And Lace" Valentine 3v12810 Vintage Valentine Cards. 5 Varieties... 2 Each. 1940's - 60's New.Unused Vintage Valentine Card Cute Stand Up Bunny CardGibson Valentines Vintage Unopened Package 1950-1960 EraVintage "i Have A Sweeping Question!! Valentine Greeting CardVintage "i Could 'buck' The World With You!! Valentine Greeting Card