Celebrating Valentine’s Day in the Early 20th Century

Heart shaped Victorian Valentine

Celebrating Valentine’s Day in the Early 20th Century

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.

When was the start of our modern Valentine traditions? Like with most holidays, it started with the Victorians.

Giving Valentines

Two children dressed as jokers for Valentine's Day on a Victorian card
Valentine Day jokers

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.

Victorian lovers kiss on a Valentine's Day card
“When heart meets heart, and lips are pressed, thus doubts and fears are laid to rest”
Victorian Valentine card
Victorian Valentine cards were often works of art
Cupid rides a hot air balloon on a Victorian Valentine's Day card
“My devoted heart is thine, Thee I love my Valentine”
Heart shaped Victorian Valentine
This Victorian Valentine card may have been homemade

Enjoy Victorian valentines? Visit my Pinterest board Valentine’s Day: 1890-1920 for more.

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Updated: 21 October 2020
Melina Druga
Most kids have an active imagination. My imagination has stayed strong into adulthood, and I’ve funneled that creativity into a successful writing career. I write history, both fiction and nonfiction, because although your school history classes may have been boring, the past is not. My goal is to bring the past to life in all its myriad of colors.

One thought on “Celebrating Valentine’s Day in the Early 20th Century

  1. I love Valentines Day. I celebrate it by enjoying a nice breakfast and make waffles with strawberries. Then, we just relax and I love to bake bread, so I often times make a heart shaped braided bread, with red decorations on top.!!! I have a few old valentines I love to display

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