Just before February 14th every year, greeting card shops are thronged with men and women, young and old agonising over what card to send to their special Valentine. They will select, read and perhaps return to the display a number of times before settling on that card that demonstrates the love of their partner. These modern day star-crossed lovers are following a tradition that is centuries old and predates the introduction of today’s Valentine cards.
Victorian Valentine Cards
The sending of Valentine’s Day tokens was popular in 19th century Great Britain where young swains delighted in sending hand written notes or lavishly decorated and painted handmade cards to the object on their affection. But it was an American, Esther Howland who in 1847 established a business to produce Valentine cards. The cards that Howland produced were again handmade and decorated and were closely based on the British Valentine cards of the period. They were decorated with lace and ribbons and had colourful paintings known as scrap and nice clean examples fetching good prices.
Modern Valentine Cards
Modern cards of course are mass-produced and come in all shapes and sizes from giant cards, to cards cut in the shape of a heart. However, the oldest known Valentine card is on display at the British Museum in London.
The Greeting Card Association of America estimates that one billion Valentine Day cards will be sent this year, making it the second most popular “card sending” day after Christmas. Sending cards today is relatively cheap costing only a few pennies for the postage stamp but before the introduction of the Penny Post all cards were individually delivered to the recipient and the cost was considerable.
Valentine’s Day Postage Stamps
But the Penny Black considerably reduced the cost of sending letters and cards so increasing the popularity of sending Valentine cards – for no matter the distance covered the cost was just one penny.
Now many postal administrations issue special stamps to celebrate St Valentine’s Day, these stamps can be used to send any letter but a Valentine stamp used to send a Valentine card adds an extra dimension to the greeting. A Valentine stamp really says that the sender has taken the trouble to walk to a post office and request the special stamp so showing a level of consideration for the recipient of his or her affections.
These Valentine stamps often show traditional tokens and images of love; love birds, doves, harts and roses. Indeed for the philatelist amongst the lucky recipient of a Valentine card the stamp may be as gratefully received as the card. It may even prompt starting a collection of Valentine Day stamps, or stamps that show love tokens, from around the world.
From the first reference to St Valentine’s connection love and lovers in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Parlement of Foules right down to contemporary love tokens, the Valentine card seems to have a secure future in everyone’s heart.