A confession: I never received a Valentine card before I moved to England. Valentine’s Day has only become popular (read: commercialised) in the last few decades in Germany, although cards have been printed there for much longer – here is an example from the beginning of this Century.
Others have told the history of this day much better than I ever could but here is an example of how it was celebrated in the 17th century:
This morning comes betimes Dicke Pen to be my wife’s Valentine, and come to our bedside. By the same token, I had him brought to my side, thinking to have made him kiss me; but he perceived me, and would not; so went to his Valentine: a notable, stout, witty boy. I up about business, and, opening the door, there was Bagwell’s wife with whom I talked afterwards, and she had the confidence to say she came with a hope to be time enough to be my Valentine, and so indeed she did, but my oath* preserved me from loosing any time with her.Samuel Pepy’s diary – 14 February 1665
* The oath of 23 January of the same year: I did with great content ‘ferais’ a vow to mind my business, and ‘laisser aller les femmes’ for a month
My collection contains a few Victorian scraps
but thankfully I am more drawn to mid-century and 70s cards. ‘Thankfully‘ because I really can’t compete with the collections out there – the best of these at The Huntington in California – another place on my travel wish-list, not just because of the collection of 12,300 (!) examples from the 17th to the 20th century. Do have a look – it contains ‘evil’ Valentines, too, for example a card from 1855 stating: “I’ll get married but not to you.”
Another lovely collection can be found online at the Vintage Valentine Museum
Next week: my favourites from the 30s to the 70s..