Valentine’s Day cards in the form of poems and notes were exchanged long before the Victorian era, but the introduction of the Penny Post in 1840 in Great Britain meant that the common man – and woman – could afford to send them through the mail. Prior to 1840, the recipient of the post was responsible for the cost, which for a single letter could equal or exceed a day’s wages.
When suddenly valentines could be sent for a penny, they were mailed in such great numbers that postmen were given a special allowance for refreshments to keep them sated in the days leading up to February 14th.
Many of the Victorian era valentines were “adorned with hearts, cupids, flowers, angels, swains, and nymphs—emissaries of love—and numerous handmade missives. Rather than purchase a ready-made valentine, Victorian men and women often assembled original valentines from materials purchased at a stationer’s shop” and then added tender verses.
Before 1810, the majority of valentines were handmade by the giver, but advances in printing methods and the booming market soon led to the popularization of commercial valentines. There were hand-tinted lithographs, perforated laces and embossed foils, as well as mass-produced hand-crafted and assembled valentines. Whether they were store-bought or homemade, both the Victorians and the Edwardians proudly displayed the Valentines they received in the parlor. According to Sarah Beattie for the V&A, men were known to spend up to a month’s wages on buying the most elaborate cards to demonstrate their love.
Friends and guests would be invited to sit for hours, leafing through albums while they visited. This custom gained so much popularity that photographers, studios, printers and business continually strived for new and exciting subjects to satisfy a public which was anxious for innovative items in order to impress their acquaintances. To make their cards stand out, people often sought for real photographic postcards. As opposed to mass-produced lithographs, these were actual photographs made with a postcard-printed back. The photography studios frequently employed women to hand-tint and color the black-and-white images. Some of the best of these cards came from Germany…famous for its detailed and colorful lithography. Popular subjects included women, children, flowers and couples, posed and arranged in an effort to portray the idealized virtues of the Era. Indeed, it was in England that the first commercial-type valentine was produced on embossed paper, later perforated to make a lace-type design. – History of the card.
Early Victorians used the language of flowers to express their feelings: daffodils signal new beginnings, daisies innocence. Lilacs mean the first emotions of love, periwinkles tender recollection. The chosen flowers might be pictured on the cards that gave, or they may have been offered in a tussie-mussie, a term from the early 1400s for small, round bouquets of herbs and flowers with symbolic meanings. Geri Laufer says “In the movie Amadeus, Mozart’s bride, Constanze, carries a tussie-mussie of pink rosebuds (grace and beauty) up the aisle on her wedding day. In the movie Age of Innocence, the dashing Newland Archer sends the desirable Countess Ellen Olenska lush yellow roses (infidelity), but his fiancée receives a small bunch of blue violets (humility, modesty, simplicity). In Sense and Sensibility, Marianne at her wedding carries a tussie-mussie containing lilies of the valley (return of happiness).”
If you want to send your own flowers with a message, you could try someone like Organic Bouquet, who offer organic and eco-friendly flowers online. All of their flowers are “grown in a manner that is not only environmentally friendly but also provides outstanding resources for farm workers and artisans.” They have a nice selection of sustainably grown roses – but pick your color carefully; red means love, coral is desire, white is purity, orange is fascination, pink is grace and beauty, and burgundy an unconscious adoration. Okay, onto the Victorian Valentines!
Do you remember how much fun it was to make your own Valentines from paper doilies and scrap and a bit of glue? With February 14th fast approaching, Willow and Thatch thought you might like to get ready for a very happy Valentine’s Day. The (really affordable) antique and vintage-inspired ephemera here could be used to collage your own card; everything pictured below is available from Etsy, while it lasts. It’s still nice to receive a beautiful card by post, and these Valentines – just as they are or upcycled by you – should make someone you love very happy, Victorian and Edwardian style.
Victorian German Kitty in a Basket die-cut Valentine: To one I Love
Victorian Angels lithographed paper scraps from Germany
To the One I Love: Edwardian Valentine Postcard circa 1910
Genuine Embossed Antique Victorian Valentine Paper Lace
To Live and Die For You: circa 1910 Edwardian Postcard
Set of Victorian and Edwardian Embossed Antique Cupid Valentines
When We Meet: The flowers look the brighter, And all on earth seems sweet, My heart is always lighter, My darling, when we meet.
Valentine Greetings: circa 1900s Postcard
Edwardian Ladies: Love and Kisses Postcard circa 1910
Heart shaped die-cut Valentine cards: Love to my Valentine, To My Heart’s Elect and True Love
Victorian Embossed Valentine’s Day Envelope circa 1850
Original Victorian Valentine circa 1870: With Sender’s Love
Lady Godey’s 1857 Valentine’s Hand Tinted Print
If you enjoyed this post, you’ll want to wander over to the 2016 Victorian Era Period Dramas and the Best Period Dramas: Victorian Era List: A list of films that take place during the reign of Queen Victoria: Victorian era (1837 to 1901). American Civil War.
You also may be interested in reading Willow and Thatch’s post Storybook Style: Far From the Madding Crowd. The Victorian era Thomas Hardy story, and the costume dramas (linked in the post), all have pivotal scenes involving a valentine:
Bathsheba has a new admirer: the lonely and repressed William Boldwood. Boldwood is a prosperous farmer of about 40, whose ardour Bathsheba unwittingly awakens when – her curiosity piqued because he has never bestowed on her the customary admiring glance – she playfully sends him a valentine sealed with red wax on which she has embossed the words, “Marry me”. Boldwood, not realizing the valentine was a jest, becomes obsessed with Bathsheba and soon proposes marriage. Although she does not love him, she toys with the idea of accepting his offer; he is, after all, the most eligible bachelor in the district.