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    

Beautiful 9" Frances Brundage Girl And Cat Valentine Card5x8" Die Cut Paper Folding Fan Valentine Greeting Card - Frances Brundage GirlVintage Children's Greeting Cards, Valentines, In Scrap Book, 1940's, Sweet11" Sectional Victorian Valentine Card - Raphael Tuck & Sons Love ThermometerVintage Valentine Lot Of 14 Cute Children's Original Valentine Cards5 1/2" Victorian Die Cut Gilded Valentine Card - Angel Girl And Swan (2)Lovely Embossed And Die Cut Victorian Valentine Greeting Card - Girl & Cupid90+ Vtg Greeting Card Lot Valentine Birthday Xmas & More Craft Scrapbooking Mix Great Lot Of 113 Vintage Valentines Day Cards!! Adorable!!! 1940' -50'sRare Vintage Hallmark Valentine Card W Cookie Recipe Without Heart Shaped Cutter5 1/2" Victorian Embossed Die Cut Valentine Card - Angel Cupid Boy In HatVintage Mechancal Valentine Card - Germany7pc Vintage Valentine's Card Lot - Dennison Seals - 6 Unused Cards - Glitter Victorian Ernest Nister Folding Standing Valentine Card - Cherry Angel & ChildVictorian Die Cut Embossed Valentine Greeting Card Lot (2) - Cupid Angel & ChildVictorian Ant-valentine ,lady Stroking Cat On Lap,"lovers She Had In Her Day....7" Embossed Die Cut Victorian Valentine Card - Police Cupid Lantern And Club3" Ernest Nister Germany Victorian Valentine Card - Cupid Angel Baby In ShoeGerman Valentine Fold Out Diecut Doves Pulling Carriage Victorian Antique LargeErnest Nister Die Cut Valentine Card - Boys In Boat With CatValentine From A Victorian Album.Vintage Moony Over Moon Valentine Card Mechanical MoveableVintage Greeting Card Girl Scarf Heart Mechanical Valentine's DayVtg Scrap Book Full Of Valentines Christmas Birthday Birth +++estate4 Very Nice Victorian Era Valentines. See Photos, Great Conditions.5x13" Victorian Folding Valentine Card - Japan Oriental Geisha Girl Tuck & SonsSigned Ernest Nister Embossed Die Cut Valentine Card - Girl & Cupid Angel BabyVintage Stand Up Valentine Girl Pie Stove Oven Used3 Valentines From A Victorian Album.4" Ernest Nister Germany Victorian Valentine Card - Girl And Cupid Angel BabyAntique Victorian Die Cut Lace Embossed Layered Valentine's Day CardLot Of 6 Vtg Valentine Cards Cats And Dogs Mechanical, Standees Eyes MoveVintage 1920s Valentines Day Card- Boy Scubba Diver W-real Rubber Hose-fish-8"20. Lot Of 10 Vintage Valentines Day Cards Mostly Animals 4 Dogs, 3 Cats Chicken3.5" Victorian Lock And Key With Cupid Angel Baby Silk Ribbon Valentine CardSigned Victorian Raphael Tuck Valentine Card - Germany Man With Dachshund Dog2 Valentines From A Victorian Album.Vintage Valentine Greeting Card Gibson Artist Signed Scott Kids Reading 1940sVintage Valentine's Day Card Fold OutValentine From A Victorian Album. (2)Beautiful Raphael Tuck & Sons Valentine Card Printed In Saxony Vintage Antique Valentine Postcard Broken Heart New Albany Indiana In IndVintage Topps Novelty Tcg Valentine Greetings Card Funny Insulting 10 Different4 Valentines From A Victorian Album.Vintage 1925 Antique Automobile Theme Valentine’s Day Greeting CardVintage Collectible Valentine Greeting CardVictorian Embossed Die Cut Gilded Attached Arrow Valentine Greeting CardVintage Valentine Cards Carrington A Lot/2 Jail Police Telephone Fold Open 1920sVictorian Heart Shaped Valentine Greeting Card - Pretty GirlEureka Valentines Day 3 Die Cut Outs VintageVintage Three Cat Unique Valentine CardVintage Dog Show Girl Husky Valentine Card Mechanical MoveableTeacher On Stack Of Books--vintage 40s 50s 60s Valentine's Card!Mailboxes Flowers To Teacher--vintage 40s 50s 60s Valentine's Day Card!