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    

3 Vintage Embossed Die Cut Stand Up Honeycomb Valentine-germanyVictorian Valentine Cards. C1850-70.Alfred E Newman Mad Magazine Don't Worry Valentine Greeting Card 1961Vintage German Die Cut Pop Up Fold Out Valentine Card Cupid Sail BoatLot Of 45 Vintage Valentine Cards Made In Usa And Printed In Germany Victorian Valentine Card By Rock & Co Paperlace Lift Up FrontVintage Valentines Day Greeting Card Boy Holding Golf Bag With Movable Hand Victorian Valentine Card Gilded Lift Up Lady SpinningVictorian Valentine Cards. C1870.Lot Of 99 Vintage Valentine's Day Cards ~ All Used ~ Some Mechanical Victorian Valentine Card Dobbs Lift Up Shells Valentine Quiz Victorian Valentine Card Mansell 1850-60 Hand Painted Woodcut ImageVintage German Die Cut Pop Up Fold Out Valentine Card Girl Boy DovesVictorian Valentine Cards. C1870.1950s-60s Girl Scout Brownie First Aid ValentineVintage Early Raphael Tuck & Son Trade Greeting Card Valentines Stand Up Die CutVintage Valentine Money Card Vintage Clown Coin Holder Card Mid Century RetroTo My Valentine Embossed Post Card Boy And Two Girls In Car Must See 19081930s Valentine Cards / Little Girl W Parrot / Stand-up / Bavaria / Lot Of 4Victorian Valentine Cards. C1870.Great Lot Of 4 Vintage Antique Valentines Day Greeting CardsVintage Childs Valentines Day Card Slick Chick... Don't Be A Dumb CluckVintage Valentine Pack Package Of 10 Cards Sealed Unopened Unused NosVintage Lot 235 Greeting Cards Birthday Valentine Easter Album Scrap Book1939 Valentine Nos Disney Pinocchio Mechanical Merry Go Round Victorian Valentine Card 1866 Opening Cherub Hand Painted Rice Paper Vintage 1940's Nurse Valentine Card Nurse Checking The Chart While Dog LooksPete Hawley Vintage Valentine Card Darling NieceVintage 1907 Valentines Card W /mechanical Movement Boy Spying On Girl, Mint19th Century French Valentine Cards.Vintage 1920's Stand Up Die Cut Valentine's Greeting CardVintage Valentines Day Card Dc Comics Inc 1980 Wonder Woman & Superman UnusedValentine Bear Paper Doll Card Rare Uncut Vintage Lucy Rigg Cute!25 Early To Mid 1970 Used Kids Valentine CardsVintage Valentine---deco Style-*-with Love To My Sweetheart*-originalValentine 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 LotVintage Valentines Card Anthropomorphic Boxing Gloves "you Are A Knock Out!"Vintage Valentines Card Anthropomorphic Pan & Coffee Pot I'll Flip My Lid Vintage Valentines Day Card Space Boy & Dog Blue Rocket A Real Blast UnusedVintage Valentines Day Card Boy Magician Card Tricks Unused Nothing Up My SleeveVictorian Valentine Card," Forget Me Not " Cupid,floral Scraps,cloth Leaves.Vintage Valentine Card Pillsbury Doughboy "look Who's Popped Up.... UnusedVintage "see The Circus Show!" Valentine Greeting Card 1940 - Pop Up & OutVintage Valentines - #518Vintage Unused Valentine ~ Dog In Car~Vintage Unused Valentine ~ Bear ~10 Vintage 1970 Kids Valentines