A Brief History of the Valentine Card
What we recognize as Valentine’s Day on February 14th is connected to both pagan and Christian historical figures, however it wasn’t associated with love and romance until the Middle Ages when Geoffrey Chaucer’s poem ‘Parlement of Foules’ made the connection in poetry: “For this was sent on Valentine’s Day, When every bird cometh there to choose his mate”. The poem was written to honor the engagement of 15 yr old King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia. Shakespeare mentions Valentine’s Day in Hamlet and other 16th century writers such as John Donne also reference the day in verse. It wasn’t until 1797 that a British publishing house was the first to encourage the practice of sending a Valentine’s Day message by publishing a pamphlet entitled, ‘The Young Man’s Valentine Writer’, a compilation of sentimental lines of poetry to be used for the purpose. Original Valentines of the 1800’s were either handmade at home or consisted of verse composed on sheets of commercial paper printed with romantic scenes. Commercially made Victorian Valentine Day cards first appeared in 19th-century England decorated with paper- lace and ribbon. History notes that, despite the steep cost of stamps, 60,000 Valentine Cards were mailed in England in 1835.
The tradition of Valentine cards was more consistently popular in the United States. They were instigated in 1848, when a young American woman, Ester Howland, whose father owned a stationary shop in Massachusetts, began importing English paper-lace and silk flowers to be used in the mass production of cards. The New England Valentine Company was under her direction for thirty – five years. English Valentines were primarily loving, artful and sentimental, although the tradition petered out in England the late 1880’s and wasn’t revived until the 1950’s. However the lexicon of American Valentines included sentimental, humorous, or even harsh messages of rejection or rude references to character deficits such as sourness, snobbery or drunkenness. Until the 1950’s American Valentine cards also reflected attitudes of bigotry and culturally insensitive portrayals of class and race. The current estimate of Valentines sent in the U.S. is 190 million annually and if you include teachers and students, 1 billion, a boon to card companies. The tradition has now gone digital with an estimated 15 million e-cards sent annually.
The earliest English Valentine messages were composed on sheets of printed paper.
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