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Early Valentines

Prior to the mid-eighteenth-century, valentines that were not handmade were often imported from abroad. Before they became mainstream and mass-produced in the United States, they were highly creative and personal.

Valentine Writers were booklets devoted to assist in writing verses for use in handmade or purchased valentines. Many of the verses were addressed to or from specific persons or trades, such as the 'Fishmonger' who tells his love "Thou art a dish of dainty fish" or the 'Mason' who sighs that his beloved's heart is "harder than stone." Some featured acrostics with the first letter of each line spelling out the name of the recipient. This Valentine Writer was written by Peter Quizumall, Esq., in May of 1823.


Lithographed valentines made their appearance in this country at the start of the Industrial Revolution, between 1840 and 1850, when craftsmanship in many lines was undergoing rapid changes. This hand-colored lithographed valentine, manufactured by Turner and Fisher of Philadelphia and New York, is dated Feb. 14, 1840. At this time, a space for a personal message was often left open. The sender added in his own handwriting "May friendship's constant kiss be thine, from this sweet day of Valentine."


This early valentine, given to Mary Andrews of Millbury, Massachusetts, was hand-cut and hand-painted with watercolors, marked and 'By M. F. Andrews of Millbury."


In the February 1849 issue of the popular Godey's Lady's Book, the author of this Valentine's Day article decries the current fashion of sending expensive imported printed valentines, suggesting that a subscription to this magazine would be more appropriate for the occasion and of greater worth.

Imported English valentines were probably the most fashionable, being made with a satin or painted center and bordered with embossed lace paper. Sometimes the valentine would have a small envelope attached in which a locket or hair or private note would be included.


By 1840, comic valentines were produced on a relatively large scale commercially. In sharp contrast to the sweet and sentimental valentine, the caricatures were often cruel and the humor venomous, expressing everything but love. They insulted the fat, the thin, the schoolteacher, the doctor, the dandy, and the drunk. Often they were sent anonymously. While some of the earliest ones were lithographed and hand-colored, wood block printing was used more than any other process. This card is a good example of a comic wood block valentine.


Many valentines were published during the Civil War for both soldiers and civilians. This chestnut curl on a hand-painted card dated 1863 went through the war with a Union soldier.


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