The 1840s saw the introduction of the "mechanical" Valentine: figures with joints held together by thread were animated by a movable cardboard tongue. This decade also saw the beginnings of the three-dimensional "accordion" or "lift-up" Valentine. Most Valentines at this time were produced in Europe, primarily England and Germany, though great quantities were imported to the U.S. In February 1849, the popular Philadelphia magazine Godey's Lady's Book denounced the high cost of imported Valentines and suggested a subscription to the magazine would be a more appropriate, and cheaper, investment.
During the 1850s and 1860s, a wide range of materials began to be incorporated into increasingly elaborate Valentines: artificial flowers, beads, feathers, silk lace, velvet, dried flowers, tinsel, even bits of mirror. This period also saw the further mechanization of Valentine production, with the introduction of cutting dies and steam-driven lithograph printing machines. Improved production of paper lace assured its continued popularity. Famous artists such as Kate Greenaway and Walter Crane began to be employed to design Valentine cards. Raphael Tuck & Company in London employed Royal Academy artists. England and Germany remained the primary producers of Valentines during this period, though by the 1860s American manufacturers were producing them in large quantities. In 1857, over 3 million Valentines were sold in the U.S., selling for as little as 3 cents to as much as $30. Most of these were composed of paper lace from England and chromolithographs from Germany.
In the late 1860s and 1870s, paper lace and other printed "scraps" were layered, sometimes with as many as five different layers, creating more depth and complexity to the designs. (See Figures 1-3) Folded hinges were used to provide a three-dimensional effect. More American manufacturers began to produce Valentines, at first assembled with materials from Europe. One of the first American manufacturers was a woman, Esther Howland of Worcester, Massachusetts (see Figures 1 & 2), whose business thrived from 1850-1881. She is often referred to as the "Mother of the American Valentine." Other important manufacturers during the last decades of the 19th century were Raphael Tuck (see Figure 11), Louis Prang, and George C. Whitney.
During the 1880s, the three-dimensional fold-out card became extremely popular and throughout the next two decades the cards became increasingly complex. By the end of the century and through the early 1900s, cards became larger, flat cards incorporated more paper lace, and elaborate designs were backed with easels so they could be displayed. (See Figures 6-8) Some had ribbon loops so they could be hung on the wall. (See Figures 5 & 9)
The early 20th century saw the introduction of celluloid decoration (see Figure 5) as well as folded and gathered parchment (see Figures 7-9), all attached with rivets on a sturdy cardboard base. The more expensive Valentines were made up of bits of silk and satin and ribbon which had to be applied by hand. (See Figure 5) Three-dimensional fold-outs continued in popularity. (See Figure 11) The first decade of the 20th century saw the introduction of the familiar honeycomb tissue in many three-dimensional designs, primarily to disguise glued hinges for the stand-up pieces.
A popular novelty Valentine introduced c.1900 was the fan. (See Figure 4) Fans were still a common accessory, and quite necessary in the warmer months. Valentine fans are especially rare because they were put to good use and seldom survived. Another popular novelty of the period was the hanging Valentine, generally called the drop Valentine. (See Figure 10) These were composed of graduated pieces connected with ribbons. These were meant to be hung in windows or on dressing table mirrors.
Elaborate hand-crafted Valentines all but disappeared during World War I. No longer able to rely on European materials, American card manufacturers came into their own during this time. Valentine postcards increased in popularity. In the 1920s and 1930s, designs began to be geared more toward children as the custom of children exchanging Valentines overtook adult customs. Cards were sold in sets for school children. And children were frequently the main design theme of Valentines. (See Figure 12) Kewpies, Dolly Dingles, and Sunbonnet Babies became enormously popular images. Honeycomb tissue, almost always red, began to be used as a prominent decorative element, no longer simply to hide hinges. And "mechanicals" gained renewed popularity with children.
Mass production of Valentine cards continues, with children still as the primary consumer. Though complex three dimensional cards can still be found, those featuring Barbie or Britney Spears are more common. Wouldn't it be nice to return to those gorgeous hand-assembled cards of 100 years ago?
I have lots more Valentines in my collection. I'll post another group next year.
Lots more valentines below. Click on any image to open another window with a larger view .
To read more about Valentines and to see more examples from Candice's Valentine collection, go to Valentines Part 2.
Robert Brenner, Valentine Treasury; A Century of Valentine Cards, Schiffer Publishing Ltd, 1997.
Dan & Pauline Campanelli, Romantic Valentines, LW Publishing, 1996.
Roselynn Ederer, From Your Valentine, Thomastown Publishing, 2002.
Michele Karl, Greetings with Love: The Book of Valentines, 2003.
Katherine Kreider, One Hundred Years of Valentines, Schiffer Publishing Ltd, 1999.