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    

Lot Of 75 Vintage Valentine CardsVintage 1950's Percolator/ Coffee Pot Valentine Cpc Card ~ 4502/11T356. Set Of 4 Vintage Mechanical Valentines Day Cards Made In The UsaLot Of 18 Vintage Children's Valentine Cards, Fold-overVintage Valentine's Day Card-fold Out 3-tier Baseball Bleachers-kids In StandsVintage Victorian Paper Lace Whitney Valentine Card Pop Up Flowers Vintage Patriotic Valentine Card From 40's Era Used With WearVintage Postcards Ephemera Valentine's Lot Of 12 1907--1915Lot Of Valentines 50 Vintage Lot Of 39 Vintage ValentinesVtg 1930s Deco Collection Lot 30 Valentine Cards Googly Eye Mechanical Die Cut Vintage Mechanical Eye & Mouth Movement 1930s Valentine Card Apple TelephoneVintage "for A Fine Son - 8 1/2"x7"!! Valentine Greeting CardVintage "i'll Lick Any Guy - Honeycomb!!" Valentine Greeting CardVintage "guess What Is Back Of This!!" Valentine Greeting CardVintage "posies For Sale But Heart Is Free!!" Valentine Greeting CardVintage "have A Heart, Don't Break It - Motion!!" Valentine Greeting CardVintage "i Won't Mind Paying A Fine!!" Valentine Greeting CardVintage "there's No One Else But You!!" Valentine Greeting CardLarge Lot Of Valentine Items - Hearts Shower Curtain - Window Gel - Candy HeartCat Kitten Pup Up Lace Birds Frame Tulips Die Cut Valentine Card Vtg Antq38! Vintage Valentines 50's 60's Vintage "a Valentine Story - 7"x8 1/2"!!" Valentine Greeting Card - NorcrossVintage "a Sweet Granddaughter - 7" X 8 1/2"!!" Valentine Greeting CardBeautiful Embossed Vintage Valentine Cards - Lot Of 4Vintage 1940's Vinegar Comic Valentine - Made In U.s.a. - Sourpass - VgVintage 1940's Vinegar Comic Valentine - Made In U.s.a. - Snappy Dresser - VgVintage Greeting Cards Ephemera Valentine's Lot Of 4Vintage "you're Sweet As Far As I'm Concerned!!" Valentine Greeting CardVintage "i Just Ran Over Your Way......!!" Valentine Greeting CardVintage "how About It, Will You Say Yes!!" Valentine Greeting CardVintage Stand Up " Valentine Card "Vintage "i'd Like To Push My Way Into Your Heart!!" Valentine Greeting CardVintage "i Like Your Line!!" Valentine Greeting CardVintage "i'd Go Through Anything For You!!" Valentine Greeting CardVintage "'fore' I'm On My Way!!" Valentine Greeting CardVintage "how About 'warming Up' To Me A Little!!" Valentine Greeting Card