Valentine’s Day is upon us once again and visions of romance and flowers fill many minds. As I’ve grown older, and somewhat wiser, my husband and I now profess our love to each other every day so I look at this Holiday from a different viewpoint. My artistic side has found an appreciation for the vintage Valentine illustrations which were romantic, inspiring and simply delightful. Most of the oldest valentine treasures are now in museums and rarely found today; however the Internet provides you and I the opportunity to enjoy these charming illustrations from the comfort of our homes.
Valentines were being exchanged in various parts of Europe in the early to mid-1400s, with the oldest Valentine in existence being in the British Museum. Traditions linking romance and St. Valentine’s Day go back a number of centuries, but the holiday as we know it is firmly rooted in the 1800s. Cards with romantic themes began to be printed for St. Valentine’s Day in the 1820s; however printing of paper cards did not appear in the United States until around 1840. In 1847, Esther Howland developed a successful business in her Worcester, Massachusetts home with hand-made Valentine cards based on the popular British models.
By the 1850s, the greeting card had been transformed from a relatively expensive, handmade and hand-delivered gift to a popular and affordable means of personal communication, due largely to advances in printing and mechanization. In the 1860s, companies like Marcus Ward & Co, Goodall and Charles Bennett began the mass production of greeting cards. These companies employed well known artists such as Kate Greenaway and Walter Crane as illustrators and card designers.
Stand-up cards with a base and several three-dimensional fold-out layers were popular from about 1895 until 1915, as were honeycomb paper puffs which opened to form bells, fans, balls, hearts and other shapes.
Many of the first American valentine crafters used not only ink and paper, but adorned their creations with sketches, watercolors, pinpricks and cutouts to make them more interesting and personal. Sometimes natural elements such as bark, feathers and dried flowers were used along with scraps of cloth, yarn, ribbon and even locks of hair. Occasionally semiprecious stones and jewels found their way into a valentine composition. The earliest valentines were sealed with wax and made their way to the recipient through hand delivery. If the greeting was anonymous, it would be left where the intended would surely find it.
Although cherubs are mentioned in the Bible as being second only to seraphim in the angelic realms; when they’re portrayed in vintage Valentines, their role is a little less serious. The Victorians seemed to be obsessed with them, as they appear not just in Valentine’s Day images, but also in many other images they used year-round. And I’m glad they were obsessed, because they left behind all these wonderful vintage Valentine cards.
A multitude of wondrous artwork has been put into a slideshow for your enjoyment. Enjoy the art, enjoy the day and let’s love each other every day…not just on the 14th of February.