I saved my favourite till last! The message on this handmade Valentine reads:
‘Think not lightly Sir of this / For on every spot’s A Kiss…’
I really hope when Mr Newman opened it in 1834, he liked it too. Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!
Victoria Osborne, Curator (Fine Art)
Mid-19th-century Valentines were often very elaborate. This typical card from c.1845-50 features a printed landscape, layers of cut and embossed paper lace with gilt decoration, fabric flowers and a collaged Cupid.
The message reads:
‘My fondest love,
These words express.
The sender, guess.’
This card sent in 1865 combines lace decoration with a moral message. The pair of compasses refers to a popular saying about moderation and restraint:
‘Keep within compass and you shall be sure,
To avoid many troubles which others endure.’
The ‘Grand Secret’ between the points of the compasses is revealed when the lace flap is lifted: ‘I Love You’.
Two comic Valentines, probably from the 1870s…
The anonymity of a Valentine’s card allows the sender to voice feelings that cannot be expressed openly. Perhaps partly for this reason, Valentines have traditionally been much more often sent by women than by men.
For women in the mid-19th century, whose interaction with men was limited by strict codes of correct behaviour, sending a Valentine must sometimes have felt especially liberating.
This cheeky card with its paper doll and handwritten message was made in about 1860.
These three cards each pose a riddle on the theme of love. The answers are revealed by lifting the paper flaps.
Scroll down for the punchlines….
Because he should ring the belle.
Because if there is but a spark you can easily create a flame.
Because you should name the day (the happy day).
That last one seems a bit laboured, but perhaps a marriage-minded sender would want to make extra sure there was no room for misunderstanding!
19th-century Valentine’s cards often carried a concealed message. Tucked between the paper gloves on this card made in about 1840 is a silk ribbon with a printed inscription:
You crave an emblem of my love,
I send you dear, a pair of GLOVES
For should you chance the pair to sever,
The other leaves the world for ever.
A pair of gloves had been a traditional Valentine’s gift from men to women as early as the 16th century. Their association with romantic love continued with the giving of miniature paper gloves like these.
This week on the blog expect love, insults, moralising and puns as we post a Valentine a day in the run-up to February 14th.
The forerunner of the mass-produced Valentine’s card was a simple sentimental poem or message, written and sealed by hand. The Valentine’s love note below was posted to a young Mr Bowler in London, probably in the 1820s. The verses claim to be by ‘Mrs S— the celebrated Poetess’ – or is that a clue to the identity of the sender?
Scroll down for a transcript.
Adieu dear youth this hapless day
Tears me from all my joys away
Remov’d from Love and Thee,
Who knows a cause of all my pain
If thou will hear me once complain
Or lose one thought on Me.
Yet to regain my lost repose
My pensive mind shall soothe its woes
For ever fix’d on Thee;
On thee shall every thought attend,
But will thou ever condescend
To fix one thought on Me?
We assume Mr Bowler kept his Valentine, but we’ll never know if he returned the rather intense feelings of his admirer….
To take away the nasty taste of the Vinegar Valentines, here’s something a little sweeter!
Advice from a greetings card, probably 1870s.
The collection of greetings cards at BMAG includes a sample album marked ‘Comic Vals’, owned by a Victorian cardseller and probably dating from the 1870s. Most of the samples in the album are ‘Vinegar Valentines’: insulting cards mocking the recipient’s appearance, profession or behaviour and predicting a loveless future.
Whether received from an embittered ex or a cruel practical joker, it would have been a nasty surprise to open any of these on Valentine’s day.
This card lulls the unfortunate recipient into a false sense of security with a pretty and sentimental cover, but when it’s opened there’s a sting in the tail:
Find out more about the history of Vinegar Valentines in this article from Brighton Royal Pavilion & Museums.