Valentines to Love, Past and Present

Valentine’s Day remains the second biggest day for greeting cards, second only to Christmas, according to the numbers. I know that I enjoy visiting our local card shop to browse and select special valentines for loved ones each year.

Vintage valentines are a favorite collectible of mine. With the varied designs and sweet verses, these cards are charming reminders of the importance of greeting cards throughout the ages.

I have a few lacy vintage examples of my own that I bring out each year and display on the mantels to create a sentimental look. I think they create just the right touch for February decorating.

Valentines belong to a category of antiques known as ephemera. Paper collectibles like valentines carry with them clues to our social past and that is one of the things I like best about them. Handwriting skills, language changes and selection of images tell so much about people and a culture.

Valentines were highly popular during the Victorian time, but the oldest known valentine is a 1415 poem written by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London and now housed in the British Library.

Printed valentines became popular during the 1800s. It was a time when people were discouraged from expressing their emotions and printed cards were a real social need.

Hallmark first offered Valentine’s Day cards in 1913 and began producing them in 1916, according to hallmark.com. Today you can purchase cards online as well as in a bricks-and-mortar store.

According to Schroeder’s Price Guide, Internet auctions have affected the prices of all valentines, both antique and retro. Some prices have gone down – others way up. But these auctions have worked to “validate the scarcity of some cards like Wonder Woman, Cracker Jack valentines, etc.”

The most important qualities for placing a value on collectible valentines like all paper artifacts are the age, category, size, manufacturer, artist, signature, condition and location. Saving them properly is tough, since you have to keep them dry, cool and free of bugs and dirt.

Valentines can be classified as mechanical, honeycomb paper puff, dimensional and flat cards. Many are too beautiful to be thrown away, thus we have the examples with us to enjoy today.

The basket shown in today’s column is an excellent example of honeycomb paper puff, a favorite style for most collectors. The paper feature on these cards pull out and form a three-dimensional attraction that is fun to operate and beautiful to see.

In the basket case, the 1926 card says “Be My Valentine” and both the front and back of the flat heart shape includes a paper puff pull that forms a perfect basket that can be displayed proudly. Signed “To Lawrence from Rita,” it must have been an expensive gift for a sweetheart in the early part of the 20th century.

Most cards are flat valentines but many have interesting features. For example, one in the column today includes a paper “crying towel,” asking that the recipient “Be My Valentine … I’m Crying for You.” Signed in childlike script by Myra, the influence of the funny papers can be seen in the art, since the girl looks a lot like “Nancy,” of comic fame.

As always, antiques and collectibles provide not only an attractive collection but an interesting window into the past! Check out the National Valentine Collectors Facebook page for more examples or share one of yours there soon and have a Happy Valentine’s Day!

For comments or suggestions on local treasures to be featured in Antique of the Week, Maureen Zambito can be reached via email at zambitomaureen@hotmail.com or by writing in care of this newspaper.


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