Illustration 1. Devotional, ca. 1700-1750. Parchment, knife-cut,
with a gouache painting of Saint Paul. France/Germany.
Illustration 2. Biedermeir style of love-offering/friendship
card. Made by Johannes Endletzberger, Vienna, ca. 1820.
Illustration 3. Elaborate English Valentine, openwork cameo-embossed
lace paper. Made by Meek, ca. 1840.
Illustration 4. Fraktur love token/reward. Painted cut-paper.
Attributed to Jacob Botz, ca. 1780, Pennsylvania.
Illustration 5. Elaborate Paper-cut, American, ca. 1825.
Illustration 6. Valentine by Esther Howland, Worcester, Massachusetts,
Illustration 7. Victorian-style Collage Valentine, McLoughlin
Company, New York, 1880s.
Illustration 8. Valentine by Kate Greenaway, England, circa
1870. Design from the book illustration for Melcomb Manor.
Illustration 9. Comic Valentine, England, ca. 1840.
Illustration 10. Comic Valentine, American, ca. 1890s. Designed
by Charles Howard for McLoughlin Company, New York.
Illustration 11. Postcard Valentines. "Beauty" under a newspaper,
signed Ellen Clapsaddle, 1912; Early baseball design. ca. 1910;
Beautiful woman, design by Samuel L. Schmucker, Winsch Publishing
Co., 1910; Mechanical postcard, Frances Brundage design, 1910.
Illustration 12. Open-out Valentine, "Love in a Motor," by Raphael
Tuck, printed in Germany, early 1900s. Grill opens to reveal an
image of a romantic couple amid a bouquet of tissue-paper flowers.
Illustration 13. Kewpie Valentine, Rose O'Neill, illustrator.
Illustration 14. Snow White, from the series by Walt Disney,
For more than twenty-five years, Valentines have been a passion
for me and I have constantly sought examples of virtually
every kind that exists! Each acquisition seemed to lead to another,
and each was a piece of the puzzle that I was assembling. In this
article, I hope to convey to the "Valentine audience"
the history and beauty of these treasures I collect, as well as
the enduring passion which has led me to seek the rare and unusual,
as well as the most simple, unassuming tokens. Through my articles,
my lectures, and my video, I believe that I am helping to make
the public more aware of the fascinating story of the Valentine.
By presenting information about the early history, the evolution
of the Valentine, and some of the varieties that exist, I hope
to further establish them as a sophisticated, intellectual subject,
important as social documentary, and worthy of scholarly recognition
as a serious research and collecting area. Messages of love span
the centuries, and are interwoven with culture to create a very
poignant view of history and the people who lived during those
Paper collectibles are often known as "ephemera"
- a broad word used to include items, which were meant to be "ephemeral",
or not long lasting, and often discarded. While Valentines are
included in this broad category, I truly believe that most were
intended to be cherished and saved and never meant
to have a transitory quality. Collectors and historians recognize
the importance of this memorabilia in adding the personal details
to history. Learning about people and events by studying such
treasures is a key to completing the picture of the people who
lived through those events. In reading a love note so carefully
and beautifully written in Spencerian script on the interior page
of a delicate Valentine, or perhaps simply by holding in your
hand a primitive fraktur of the Pennsylvania Germans, one discovers
a common denominator, that they were created out of love, cherished,
saved, and handed down to us as nearly-sacred mementos. I can't
think of a more wonderful thing to collect! Additionally, their
broad range provides opportunities for collectors of all levels,
interests, and pocketbooks.
The challenge of finding representative examples
became a driving force in the creation of my truly comprehensive
collection. To say that it was a passion is an understatement!
It became a hobby shared with my husband during our antique journeys
around the country, and once the children were grown, a reason
for a number of European explorations to auctions and flea markets!
Starting with a small display in a wall case at our local elementary
school, and an article written about it by a school parent for
a shopper newspaper, my interest became further encouraged. I
developed programs and displays as the hobby took on a life of
its' own! Now, many years later, the numerous magazine articles
and major events have enabled me to share the passion with an
increasingly fascinated audience. People don't realize that Valentine's
Day was such a significant social event, enjoyed by every strata
of society, and celebrated extensively. Businesses thrived on
it, as they capitalized on the passion of the population by creating
a wide array of Valentine articles. Gifts of jewelry, lingerie,
perfume, fans, and magnificent Valentines on elegant lace paper
- as well as scathing satire on cheap paper for another audience
-- were only some of the options. Handmade cut-paper or collages
of woven hair and silk ribbons, hand-embellished watch papers
to set within the case of a pocket watch, and shell-encrusted
fantasies brought by sailors from distant shores - are just a
few of the Valentine treasures one can still find.
Famous artists such as Francesco Bartolozzi, George
Cruikshank, Walter Crane, Kate Greenaway, Winslow Homer, Grace
Drayton, Frances Brundage - and numerous others -- designed wonderful
Valentines. Movie themes such as the Disney cartoon characters
and the Wizard of Oz are delightful additions to collections and
add a unique perspective, while helping to enlarge the scope to
include the modern Valentine.
Especially popular now are the die-cut open-out
Valentines from the turn of the century, with their honeycomb
tissue and delightful chromo-lithographed images of everything
from the emerging transportation motif to adorable children and
moveable fans! It is a wonderful category, which is a popular
collecting destination. I can't think of another subject that
provides such a variety of things to find - or which possesses
such a long and fascinating history. For me, collecting
is a great source of pleasure, with the search, the find,
the acquisition, and lastly the sharing of
the treasure, providing the essential encouragement.
2. The Origin of Saint Valentines Day
To do this briefly is a challenge! The early history of St. Valentines
Day has two separate aspects, and there are several versions of
the origin of the holiday. The generally accepted story states
that during the reign of the Emperor Claudius II, there was a
Priest in Rome who befriended young couples, and encouraged them
to marry. This infuriated the Emperor, who felt that a married
soldier would not give his primary allegiance to him, but to his
wife! The Priest, Valentinus, was ordered to cease these actions,
but he persisted in ministering to the young lovers, and even
attempted to convert the Emperor to Christianity! Angered at this,
the Emperor sentenced Valentinus to be beheaded. While awaiting
his execution, it is said that he befriended the blind daughter
of the jailer, and even restored her sight. It is also written
that on the eve of his execution, he wrote a note to this young
girl, which he simply signed, "Your Valentine"
and that, in the year 276 AD, is believed to have been the very
In that early era in Rome, there existed many
popular Pagan customs, celebrated at festivals such as The Feast
of Lupercalia basically "the rites of spring".
During the celebration, "lots" were drawn from an urn
on a sacred altar of love, and the selected name would be the
lover, or partner for the year. Because there was feasting, dancing
and raucous merrymaking, it was an exceptionally popular festival.
When the Romans occupied Britain, they carried their Pagan customs
with them including this popular Feast of Lupercalia. As
Christianity began to take hold in England, a great effort was
made to banish these customs. This festival occurred at the same
time of year as the martyrdom of the patron of lovers, Valentinus,
and since it would have been very difficult to ban such a popular
feast, the name was changed to honor that Saint. Thus, Saint Valentines
Day became the reinvention of this old Pagan holiday!
3. The History and Evolution of the Valentine
From the earliest tokens of affection -- perhaps a feather, a
flower, or a fern frond -- evolved the cut paper gifts we cherish
today. Since the 16th century, religious mementos with the Sacred
Heart motif have been tenderly created in convents in France,
Germany, and Holland. Given with respect, admiration, friendship,
or love, these handmade devotionals are the epitome of
the personal love token. Carefully crafted on parchment or vellum,
and lovingly given, collectors of antique Valentines seek them
as important touchstones for they reflect the purest concept
of the Valentine. The religious devotionals were surely the precursors
of the modern Valentine, their designs emulating the hand-tatted
lace of the period. The compositions incorporated decorative edges,
framed cartouche paintings of saints and sacred hearts, and were
often enhanced by swags and flowers, bouquets and hearts
all cut with a knife!
While artists may have crafted some pieces, unskilled, loving
hands created most. That tenderness is a part of the personal
aspect of collecting such charming, often primitive ephemera
a communication with the past, and an intimacy with the real people
who made and received them. In such totally different time periods,
in countries far apart, crude paper, rustic equipment, and candlelight,
nurtured with love and naïve artistry, inspired some of our
most wonderful treasures! Given with affection, the recipients
carefully saved them
pressed within the pages of a book,
safely tucked in an album, or framed for all to see. The "romantic"
in me believes that each piece in my collection tells a special
story and the reality is that they were all crafted
in historic times that were so different from ours,
that we must be in awe of their very survival! Protecting them
for future generations is the obligation, and often the challenge,
for the modern collector.
There really were no "Valentine cards" for centuries.
First, the "Valentine" was the chosen person, and actual
lotteries existed for many years. We have recordings, in Samuel
Pepys fifteenth century Diary, of expensive items
such as jewelry, hosiery, and gloves being given as Valentine
gifts, as well as the very first mention of a little Valentine
note on blue paper with gilt letters! We have records of some
other small love messages having been written, but during the
Reformation, an effort was made to encourage people to select
a Saint to honor instead of a person, and that is apparently when
the devotional pieces began. From the sixteenth century,
nuns in convents in France and Germany created tiny cut-work treasures
out of parchment or vellum, decorated with images of saints or
hearts or even the endless knot of love and sold
them for the benefit of charity. These were given as gifts to
commemorate virtually all celebrations: births, deaths, communion,
baptism, marriage, birthdays, and St. Valentines Day! It
is possible to monitor the evolution of Valentine design through
these early design elements.
Gradually, as the techniques of making paper advanced,
the magnificent cameo-embossed papers appeared. It became designated
for elegant love letters and Valentines, and numerous talented
English manufacturers provided romantic stationery for their increasing
numbers of customers. In Germany and Austria, the elegant cards
created to celebrate New Years and Name Day Festival were
crafted of similar materials, and collectors seek them for their
rarity and beauty as well. While lace paper appears to have made
earlier in the century in Germany and Austria, the English discovery,
in 1834, of the technique for producing fantasies in open-work
embossed lace paper, created a canvas for creativity and artistry
which has not been duplicated.
In America, Valentines were largely handcrafted until that time
and the influence of the immigrant German cultures resulted in
the wonderful folk-art paper items known as scherenschnitte
paper cutting and fraktur paper
designs incorporating the German writing and imagery. Paper was
scarce and costly, and free time to create special missives was
also limited because of the responsibilities of work and school.
The handmade love-tokens are, for me, the epitome of the tender
art of communication and the variety from the most
primitive to the most elegant calligraphic penmanship reflect
the beauty and tenderness of the sentiment. These, then, are my
favorites because I can "feel" the presence of the person
who gave, made, or received them. Their dedication to saving them
in albums, pressing them between the pages of a book, or mounting
them upon the wall for all to savor, commits me to saving them
Several publishers of lithographs and wood engravings were making
manufactured Valentines in New York early in the century, and
by mid-century, the famous maker, Esther Howland, had set up her
business in Worcester, Massachusetts. She established the first
all-female assembly line workshop, as well as a "cottage-industry"
where ladies would have materials and samples delivered and picked
up at their homes, thus mass-producing Valentines in quantity.
Her contribution to the popularization of the tradition and the
sending of decorative lace Valentines cannot be over-emphasized.
The smaller ones generally are marked N.E.V.Co. for her New England
Valentine Company, or with a red "H" and a number indicating
the price. Large, ornate masterpieces, with multiple layers, and
beautiful composition have never been found with signatures, yet
have been attributed to her because of their styling and components,
and by the magnitude and uniqueness of her New England operation.
As the Industrial Revolution advanced, people had less time
to spend at home crafting love missives, and machinery was able
to create Valentines which replaced them. Lost was the personal
touch, the individuality, and the infinitesimal detail, but people
were entering a modern age, and chromolithography made it possible
to mass-produce by machine. We see the demise of the old styles
in Valentines, but a later "Victorian" appeal which
we can identify by the heavy layers and applied scraps (die-cuts).
These replace the delicate hand-made confections which preceded
them, but they were truly lovely in their own way. Today, we can
display these in shadow boxes, with the layers separated in a
A crude and rude type known as the penny-dreadful, or vinegar
valentine, was popular among a class of people far different from
those sending lacy and romantic tokens. These were made on a cheap
pulp paper and were frequently vulgar and often destroyed.
They are a fascinating aspect to the collection, I believe, and
contribute further insight into the personalities and lifestyles
of the people. Aimed at occupations, appearance, or habits, nothing
Post-card Valentines and die-cut open-out styles became very
popular towards the end of the nineteenth century, and are an
available "paradise" for todays collector. Every
theme has been included, and one could make a collection, for
example, of items with a transportation motif -- automobiles,
ships, trains, carriages, planes, dirigibles or only of
adorably charming children painted by leading artists of the period
These open-outs were decorated frequently with honeycomb tissue
paper or scraps which made them unique. Made of a thick cardboard
which can become very brittle, pristine examples are very desirable
and would be the basis of a collection of increasing value. They
were largely manufactured in Germany and Britain, many by famous
By World War I the production of Valentines largely ceased because
of the demands of the war, and little is seen until the 1930s.
The colorful Walt Disney creations are the highlight of this period,
and extremely collectible, as one tries to acquire an example
of EACH one! Designed with the characters from their famous movies,
they now appeal to all ages and especially to those adults
who remember them as children! American companies such as Norcross
and Hall Brothers produced a vast number of cards. During World
War II the styles were very simple, and dominated by themes such
as "For My Sweetheart in the Army". Simplicity was still
the theme for years, and by the 1970s, I believe, we see the beginnings
of a renaissance, as old-fashioned designs even open-outs
-- appear again. Today, it is possible to find an occasional greeting
card with a treasured and timeless message, but they are mostly
"contemporary" with little relationship to the
delicate and marvelous treasures which would have been cherished
and saved "forever". One can find every cartoon theme,
as well as those with musical chips inserted! Cards are available
in virtually every language, and earmarked for ethnic segments
of the population. For me as the "passionate collector"
I want them all and frankly, if I want to have a comprehensive
collection, showing the real evolution of the Valentine, I need
to have them its just that some will be more special
4. Varieties of Valentines
I have already mentioned a number of types but basically
there are the machine-made and the handmade. In the machine made
category I would include the engravings, the lithographs, and
the wood-block designs, the aquatints, the embossed lace, the
openwork lace, the Victorian die-cut layered ones, the postcards,
the fans, the mechanicals, and the German die-cuts of the turn
of the century.
In the handmade category we can include the folded and cutout
designs, called scherenschnitte, fraktur, cut-paper designs such
as the heart and hand motif, the devotionals also often
called knipsel or canivets, pin-pricks, stencil
(poonah or theorem) designs, labyrinths or mazes,
acrostics, puzzle-purses, cobwebs, rebuses, watchpapers, hair-decorated,
handwritten, embroidered, watercolored, and probably others I
cannot think of at the moment!
Three-dimensional items include elaborate Sailors Valentines
made of shells, glass rolling pins, corset stays--called "busks"--
made of wood or whalebone, Welsh love spoons, knitting sheaths,
and bobbins. Magnificent fans, impressive jewelry, fine gloves,
and a wide variety of utilitarian and decorative boxes and items
made from wood, silver, brass, enamel, or ivory
be decorated with motifs signifying love, courtship, betrothal,
and marriage. Love-letter seals and "love token" coins
are distant cousins, but stretch the concept of the Valentine
as a token of love which might be given any day of the year. The
list is endless, and each area is worthy of a collection by itself.
5. The Creation of a Collection
First, one has to be intrigued and fascinated by the concepts
I have outlined already. Even if one has no idea of the majesty
of the things I described, if you are open to learning, and like
the intrinsic theme, I think youre set for some fun. There
are a great many areas for collecting valentines from a
few dollars to a huge amount for very serious pieces which may
be coveted by long-established collectors. Some people focus on
one particular period or style I know someone with a vast
and fabulous collection of Valentines with the theme of golf
others select colorful children, open-out fans, postcards, or
the works of specific artists, like Clapsaddle, Brundage, or Greenaway,
for example. Sometimes its good to get a little "price
guide" which you can use as a form of checklist realizing,
of course, that price lists have very little merit, for the prices
change rapidly, and vary according to location and demand. Once
you start, its good to go to antique fairs, auctions, paper
shows (the term is officially "ephemera") and museums.
Seeing the actual pieces is the very best way to acquire knowledge.
The books on the subject are out of print, but most good libraries
have them, and they should be sought with determination. Knowledge
is essential before you make any significant financial commitment.
The National Valentine Collectors Association provides a
quarterly newsletter, with lots of information, a mail-bid auction,
annual meetings in various locations around the country, and the
opportunity to meet other people who share the same interest.
This is definitely a subject area which enraptures and
delivers its rewards in so many ways. The artistry and elegance,
the craftsmanship of hand- or machine-made varieties, and the
accompanying history make this a collectors paradise!
The Enduring Love of a Collector
by Nancy Rosin
Reprinted from: The Ephemera Journal, A Valentine Source-Book,
The Ephemera Society of America, Volume 3, 1990.
Collecting Valentines is, to me, far different from collecting
any other item. Valentines and their related love ephemera touch
the most basic emotional aspects of the relationships among people:
they reveal qualities about the object, the sender, and the recipient,
to which we can all relate. In my own collection, I never feel that
I am amassing or compiling documents. But rather am creating a chronicle
of actual people. These former owners acquire personalities I can
envision; their artistic endeavors are both appreciated and savored.
A list of facts can only provide the most elemental aspects of
a collection. The challenge, the search, and the acquisition are
common to every collector; a deeper bond is an understanding of
and a respect for the entire process. These are no mere "accumulations",
but scholarly, perhaps even anthropological or sociological, studies
of peoples lives lived within a particular historical framework.
In my personal study, the manufacture of paper, and the development
of the postal delivery systems, played key roles in my appreciation
for the valentine missive. In my desire to form a comprehensive
collection, I needed to become familiar with events in history:
to link particular valentines to the Gold Rush, the Civil War, womens
suffrage, the building of the transcontinental railroad, etc. It
also intrigued me to become more familiar with artists to
be able to spot the work of Kate Greenaway, Walter Crane, Norman
Rockwell, or lesser known illustrators.
As with the collection of other historical documents, acquiring
Valentines involves a moral obligation: the responsibility to safeguard
and preserve them for posterity. If we can, we stop the process
of deterioration of paper treasures. And we have the responsibility
to keep these fragile relics of the past, and of past loves, in
archival conditions. Although the very definition of ephemera refers
to the transitory nature of objects that were not intended for permanence,
it is encumbent upon us to now become custodians of these mementos.
For me, each Valentine possesses special qualities which make it
"collectible". The primitive, the humorous, or the elegant
each has a special charm. They were saved as souvenirs, passed
down as heirlooms, and now are valued for their aesthetic and historic
qualities. When I hold one in my hand, I can feel transported to
another era and can imagine a perpetual Valentines
Day of love and regard.
To further assist collectors, I have created the video, The Valentine & Expressions of Love, Sirocco Productions, Norfolk, Virginia. I include images of the vast array of Valentine materials, and the knowledge gained from thirty years of collecting and research on the subject. Price is $49.95 plus $3.50 postage and handling, and is available at www.sirocco.com or from NancyRosin@aol.com or at www.VictorianTreasury.com.
The National Valentine Collectors Association
If you are interested in sharing the passion of Valentines with others, let me suggest a membership in the National Valentine Collectors Association. Meetings are held annually in different parts of the country, visiting private and museum collections, and enjoying the camaraderie of others with a shared interest. Quarterly newsletters and mail-bid auctions make the celebration of Valentine's Day one that lasts all year!
Dues: $20/year; $25. outside the USA; payable by mail or PayPal
Contact: Nancy Rosin, President
The National Valentine Collectors Association
P.O. Box 647
Franklin Lakes, NJ 07417
Celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2001, the National
Valentine Collectors Association will hold its annual meeting in
New York City, May 19-21 in conjunction with the National Stationery
Show. The Greeting Card Association of America will be presenting
its first annual Esther Howland Award for an Entrepreneur
and the Valentine collectors will be there to honor their dear patron.
Louis Prang, Americas great chromolithographer, will be celebrated
with the thirteenth annual "Louis Award". Additionally,
there will be a display of Valentines and contemporary photographs
of Esther Howland and Louis Prang from the Nancy Rosin Collection.
It was the certainly the daring and ingenuity of these two great
icons of the industry which created the modern greeting-card.