Just in time for the holiday, we’ve acquired a collection of nearly 40 hand-drawn valentines. Most likely all the work of one artist, the valentines were probably created in the UK between 1850 and 1860. The practice of exchanging paper valentines was popularized in the early 19th century, and mass-produced valentines were made available by the late 1840s. Manuscript valentines most likely continued to appear along with their print counterparts, but few examples from this period survive.
Others offer more comic sentiments, illustrated with exaggerated images of the characters described in acerbic verse (these were known as ‘cruel’ or ‘vinegar’ valentines). A few have moveable parts, including the one pictured at right, which features an older woman beating a younger man (if the tab on the bottom is pulled, her arm, holding the birch, moves up and down).
The verse reads, “You nasty and ugly and crabbed old scold/ I shall pity your husband, poor man!/ If e’er you inveigle one into your snare/ which you doubtless will if you can./ But I will not marry a vixin [sic] like you/ So do not hope me, to ensnare/ Who know if I wed you we should not/ Be a very affectionate pair.”
Many of the cards are tailored towards members of a specific profession. If your valentine is, for instance, a butcher, you might send him this token of your affection:
The verse reads, “Dearest loved one of my heart/ From thee, I never will depart/ Altho’ you are a butcher born/ And go for many days unshorn.”
MS Eng 1666. Houghton Library, Harvard University. Purchased with the Frank Brewer Bemis Bequest, 2011.