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Historic Valentines

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
February 24th, 2016

Blog post by Jane Metters LaBarbara, Assistant Curator, WVRHC.

During the 19th century, factory production and paper lace made paper Valentines more affordable and plentiful, and they continue to be popular even as times change and many people send Valentines digitally.  Some of you will remember an old exhibit of historical valentines that we used to have up on the WVU Libraries website—though that exhibit was taken down, the original Valentine cards remain in A&M 2116, Ephemera Collection.  Come to the WVRHC and take a look; they might inspire you to make a few greeting cards of your own!  Though Valentine’s Day is almost a year away, it’s never a bad time to send a card to someone you care about.  I have included ten of my favorite Valentines below; they date from the early to mid-1900s. 


Valentine bookmark showing a well-dressed 18th century man holding flowers.

First and foremost, I wanted to share this Valentine bookmark—you can’t see it in the photo, but the blue part at the top is cut along its lower half, so the Valentine can hook over the page of a book.


Valentine card showing two faces peeking out of tulip blooms, with a short poem.

Cards with verses came into being long before this one was made in 1911.  This Valentine postcard was sent to Miss Julia M. Davis, daughter of distinguished lawyer and statesman John W. Davis.  She would later become an author; we have a few collections that include her correspondence, manuscripts, and other materials, which you can read about here.


Popup valentine with flowers and two people in 18th century fancy clothing.

I photographed this pop-up Valentine instead of scanning it because it’s much easier to see the multiple layers this way.  I particularly like their costumes, reminiscent of the 1700s.


Valentine showing an ornate ship with three people.

This popup valentine is broken, but its size, ornate cutouts, faux gilding, and red gems make it one of my favorites.


Valentine card which reads "My heart just goes a bumping when I see you pass along, I don't know what's the matter but there's surely something wrong."

While some Valentines of the past were ornate, others were short and sweet like this one, which reads “My heart just goes a bumping when I see you pass along, I don’t know what’s the matter but there’s surely something wrong.” (Copyright 1911)


Advertisement for valentine flower products from Charleston Cut Flower & Plant Co.

Not really a Valentine, this is the inside of an advertisement made to look like a card, mailed to a lady’s home in the 1920s.  It presents hard evidence that Americans have associated Valentine’s Day with flowers for at least 90 years.


Valentine card showing a cartoon farmer bear and a happy piglet.

Have you ever wondered what Hallmark cards used to look like?  Wonder no more—here is one example, copyrighted in 1943, which tactfully leaves out references to the war going on at the time.


Cover of a valentine, with the text "This is NOT a VALENTINE, IT IS ONLY—" Inside of a valentine, with the text "A request that you stop being so attractive BEFORE I DIE (of admiration.)"

I also enjoy the joking Valentines: “This is NOT a VALENTINE, IT IS ONLY—A request that you stop being so attractive BEFORE I DIE (of admiration.)”


Valentine that says "I'll always "stick" with you, it's in "the books"-Valentine"

I couldn’t resist this Valentine with a puppy AND books, two of my favorite things.


Valentine showing a person with a beet for a head, and text "Dearest Valentine, you do ___ all the others."

I had to have my husband, an experienced punster, explain this one—it’s not a radish or purple onion, but a beet.  “Dearest Valentine, you do beet all the others.”  However, I am not at all sure if the candle outdoors in the daytime is supposed to be a reference to something that would have made sense to people in 1907, when the card was copyrighted.

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