History of Valentine Cards


Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and soon men, women, and children of all ages will pick out valentines to send to their loved ones. Valentine cards while not as old as the celebration of Valentine’s Day, which has been around for a long while. The holiday which started when the Lupercalia lottery was abolished and young Roman men started offering women they admired handwritten greetings of affection on February 14. The cards were named after Saint Valentine.

Valentine Card and the British Museum

With the spread of Christianity, Valentine’s Day cards picked up in popularity. The earliest known card as noted in history was sent by Charles, Duke of Orleans in 1415 to his wife while he was a prisoner in the Tower of London. This card is housed in the British Museum.

St Francis de Sales, the bishop of Geneva, attempted in the sixteenth century to stop the custom of cards and reinstate the lottery. He had the theory that Christians had become wayward and needed Saints to look up to. This lottery lasted only a short while and rather than making cards become extinct, they proliferated and became elaborate with decorations.

Cupid and Valentine Cards

Cupid, the smiling, naked, angel, with the arrows dipped in love potion soon was festooned on cards everywhere. Cupid became associated with Valentine’s Day because in Roman mythology he is the son of Venus, the goddess of love and all things beautiful.

Early into the seventeenth century, handmade cards were large and decorated with multi–images. But store-bought cards, in comparison, were smaller and more expensive. A British publisher, in 1797, published a book for young lovers with hundreds of love poems and sentiments for lovers who could not think of any on their own. During that same year, printers had started to produce “mechanical valentines”, which were valentines that had the same images and verses. A reduction rate in the postal service helped thousands of people give out valentines in a less personal but simpler method of giving.

Banning Racy Valentine Cards

This practice also allowed some givers to remain anonymous which is part of the reason for the more racy and obscene valentines in the prudish Victorian era. Some of the valentines became so extremely obscene that several countries banned the practice of exchanging cards. For example, Chicago late in the 19th century rejected some twenty-five thousand cards on the ground that they were not fit to be carried through the postal service.

In America the first publisher of valentines was artist Esther Howland. Her lacey and elaborate cards cost from five to thirty-five dollars and that was in 1870. Since the elaborate cars of Ms Howland, the printing and selling of Valentine cards has flourished. Valentine cards are exchanged more than any other card , with the exception of Christmas cards.

So this February 14th, take time as you look through the cards sent by friends and loved ones to remember the history and love that brought that card to you.