Today, Valentine’s Day is a holiday to give cards and small gifts to the people you care about the most. What was once the day for lovers now includes parents, children, close friends and extended family. (This post is a companion piece to Melina Druga’s WWI Trilogy, Angel of Mercy, Those Left Behind and Adjustment Year, available wherever eBooks are sold. It also is a companion piece to The Unmarriable Kind.)
When was the start of our modern Valentine traditions? Like with most holidays, it started with the Victorians.
The first commercially produced Valentines were made in the 1830s in Britain and the 1840s in the United States. Prior to this, valentines were homemade. The first cards were elaborately decorated with lace, hearts, cupids and ribbons. As time went on, they became even more elaborate and included fabric flowers, glazed paper, mirrors, envelopes and trinkets.
Valentines were given to a person’s sweetheart, and because they could be sent through the mail, they also could be sent anonymously. This meant that some cards contained racy prose.
By the end of the 19th century, the best Valentine cards cost as much as $25. They were decorated in fringe, paper cutouts, feathers, beads, seeds and tinsel. They could even include wax flowers and glass. Highly elaborate cards, however, didn’t stay in vogue for long and fell out of favor by the early 20th century.
The new century brought with it simpler card designs and new innovations such as stand-up cards, pull tabs and layers of honeycomb.
The tradition of giving flowers, chocolates and other gifts came later in the century.
Early 20th Century Valentines
The following are examples of early 20th century Valentines.
Enjoy Victorian valentines? Visit my Pinterest board Valentine’s Day: 1890-1920 for more.
Updated: 21 October 2020