Victorian Valentines: Intimacy in the Industrial Age

As this exhibition shows, the practice of exchanging valentines on February 14th was a distinctly modern tradition, first popularized in the United States in the 1840s.

Following practices previously developed in England, lovers, friends, and family members bought or made fanciful valentines decorated elaborately with paper lace, colorful printed materials, ribbons, hair, and scraps. Manufacturers of valentines, such as Esther Howland and George C. Whitney, played a crucial role in establishing Valentine’s Day as an American holiday. These same manufacturers often sold valentine writers, collections of short poems and affectionate messages meant to be copied verbatim, to aid the less poetically-inclined in wooing their beloved. Along with valentines themselves, these writers shaped the way Americans both expressed and experienced affection for one another.

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