Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Valentines: A Brief History & a Sampling from Cassandra’s Antique Collection

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
~ Elizabeth Barrett Browning

February has been a month of romance since ages past. St. Valentine’s Day originated from Christian and Roman traditions - the Roman Catholic Church recognizes three martyred saints named Valentine or Valentinus. During the Middle Ages in France and England it was believed that February 14 was the beginning of birds' mating season, thus began the practice of celebrating Valentine's Day as a day for romance in the middle of February.

The oldest known valentine still in existence today is considered to be a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. Several years later, King Henry V hired a writer, John Lydgate, to compose a valentine note to Catherine of Valois.

During the 1600s, the holiday began to be popularly celebrated in Great Britain; and, by the mid -1700s, it was common for friends and lovers of all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes. Due to improvements in the technology of printing in the late 1700s, printed cards began to replace written letters. The manufactured cards made it easier for people to express their emotions in a time when direct expression of one's feelings was discouraged. Less expensive postage rates also contributed to an increase in the popularity of posting valentines.

In the 1840s in Worcester, Massachusetts, a young woman named Esther A. Howland, inspired by the fancy lace-covered English valentines that her father sold in his Worcester stationery store, began to create and sell the first mass-produced valentines in the U.S.

Esther initially created several sample valentines and persuaded one of her brothers skilled in penmanship to inscribe sentiments in the cards. The valentines proved extremely popular - despite their high cost – many sold for $5 to $10 each, and very extravagant ones, bedecked with ribbons, satin, and silk, cost up to $30.

Esther’s business boomed, and she recruited four friends to help her fulfill the orders and created an innovative assembly-line approach in making the cards. Seated at a long table, one worker cut out small colored lithographs of sentimental subjects, the next laid them on brilliantly glazed paper backgrounds, a third assembled the layers of lace paper that framed the central design, and the fourth pasted down a printed sentiment, typically inside the card or under a flap where only the recipient could see it. In 1881, Esther sold her business to the George C. Whitney Company.

While other manufacturers of valentines competed for the affection of the public, none could compete with the quality, taste, and style of Esther Howland. She is credited with having popularized the lace Valentine, and propelling it into a major industry and came to be known as "The Mother of the American Valentine"..

My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite.
~ William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

A life without love is like a year without summer.
~ Swedish quote

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.
~ Lao Tzu

To love is to receive a glimpse of heaven.
~ Karen Sunde

Love is the only gold.
~ Alfred, Lord Tennyson

All thoughts, all passions, all delights,
Whatever stirs this mortal frame,
All are but ministers of love,
And feed his sacred flame.
~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge

I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.
~ Mother Teresa


  1. Dear Cassandra, What a beautifully romantic posting you have treated your readers to today. Your collection of antique cards is so prettyand I was most intrigued to learn of the history of their production in the USA.

  2. Wow! I just learned a lot! And it's such a pleasure to see your antique Valentines and read the beautiful quotes! Thank you!

  3. You have a wonderful collection of Valentines and I loved reading all the history and information you provided. Thank you for sharing such beautiful images! Take care, Laura :)

  4. These are so pretty! Thank you so much for sharing them with us. I love antique valentines. The history is fascinating.


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