Preservation Valentine

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Vintage Valentine from West Virginia University Libraries. Click for original source.

Need some history about Valentine’s Day? It’s not exactly created by the greeting card industry, as some cynics declare. Buying and sending valentines in the United States became popular in the mid 1800s, with the ingenuity of Esther Howland, who handmade the earliest valentines out of imported lace and floral decorations and ribbons. She is known as the mother of the Valentine.

However, valentines have a long history before Esther Howland. The American Antiquarian Society (AAS) has an online exhibit called Making Valentines: A Tradition in America with information about Valentine’s Day (mostly about the creation of valentines/cards in the United States). Although it’s on a date webpage with some broken image links, it’s a fun, worthwhile read.

For history on the creation of the day itself, visit It includes this information:

The history of Valentine’s Day — and its patron saint — is shrouded in mystery. But we do know that February has long been a month of romance. St. Valentine’s Day, as we know it today, contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. So, who was Saint Valentine and how did he become associated with this ancient rite? Today, the Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred.

One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men — his crop of potential soldiers. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.

Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons where they were often beaten and tortured.

According to one legend, Valentine actually sent the first “valentine” greeting himself. While in prison, it is believed that Valentine fell in love with a young girl — who may have been his jailor’s daughter — who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter, which he signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still in use today. Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories certainly emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic, and, most importantly, romantic figure. It’s no surprise that by the Middle Ages, Valentine was one of the most popular saints in England and France.

Vintage valentine from West Virginia University Libraries. Click for original source.

How many of you send Valentine’s Day cards to your friends and family? Remember giving cards in elementary school and receiving treats? Who doesn’t love those little message hearts?

Sending some preservation love your way. I hope you have a lovely day!

Modern handmade flamingo card found on Capadia Designs. Click for original source.


2 thoughts on “Preservation Valentine

  1. Sabra Smith says:

    A shout out on behalf of my alma mater — Esther Howland was a graduate of Mount Holyoke College (class of 1847). You can see an example of her early valentines here: I think she’s given credit for making valentine production a commercial venture — I think (as you note) that previously valentines were crafted by one person to give to another person.

    “CBS Sunday Morning” did a wonderful feature yesterday on a woman who collects valentines. She has some stunningly beautiful and unusual examples of valentines from the 18th century and earlier. I hope the Civil War Sesquicentennial website has seen her Civil War valentine — a picture of a camp tent — you open the flaps were you see a soldier writing a letter to his beloved and her image is mistily hovering over him. Apparently the most common motto on these was “Love Protects.” Such relevance today with so many Americans posted overseas.

    By the way! The nature segment at the end of the show was FLAMINGOS!

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