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Valentine's Day - One of the earliest cut out and hand-colored valentines was sent to Elizabeth Sandwith from Henry Drinker in Philadelphia in 1753. Elizabeth eventually became his wife
One of the earliest cut out and hand-colored valentines was sent to Elizabeth Sandwith from Henry Drinker in Philadelphia in 1753. Elizabeth eventually became his wife
Valentine's Day was
named after one or more early Christian martyrs named Valentine which was established by Pope Gelasius in 496 AD. There were three saints named Valentine or Valentinus that the Catholic Church recognized whom were martyred. One story claims Valentine was a priest living in Rome during the 3rd Century. During this time, marriage became outlawed because soldiers were thought to be stronger if they were without a family. Valentine did not agree with this law, and continued to marry couples against the wishes of Emperor Claudius II, better known as Claudius The Cruel. St Valentine left a note which read "From your Valentine" for the jailer’s blind daughter before being executed. Even though this legend is widely circulated by American Greetings and History.com, there were no romantic elements associated with valentines during this time.

During the Dark Ages, It was said that lovers were hiding Valentine greetings in the hollows of trees to brighten their February days. John Lydgate, the Monk of Bury wrote in praise of Queen Catherine, wife of Henry V in 1476:
Seynte Valentine, of custom yeere by yeere
Men have an usauance in this regioun
To loke and serche Cupides Kalendere
And chose their choyse, by grete affeccion
Such as ben prike with Cupid mocioun
Takyng theyre choyse as theyr sort doth falle,
But I love oon whiche excellith alle,

There are claims that Geoffrey Chaucer first recorded the association of Valentine's Day with romantic love the high Middle Ages. In 1382 he wrote:
For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make

However, critics have debunked this belief due to the time when it took place in the year. It is ludicrous to believe that birds actually met on February 14 to choose their mates.

Shakespeare mentioned Valentine's Day in Hamlet, Ophelia saying:
Pray you, lets have no words of this; but when they ask you what it means, say you this:
To-morrow is Saint Valentine's day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
Then up he rose, and donn'd his clothes,
And dupp'd the chamber-door;
Let in the maid, that out a maid
Never departed more.

--William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act IV, Scene 5

By the 17th century, Samuel Pepys was writing of hand-made and lettered Valentine messages in England. The Beauties of Hymen, an early 18th-century book, offered a selection of stock messages for those who couldn't think of a proper greeting for their loved ones. The appropriate message could be used based upon the occupation of the giver. For example, a bricklayer might promise his beloved:
Sweet Valentine
If you will be mine You shall have a
Fine house by and by.

Valentine's Day - Rare example of a portion of a broadside with verses meant to be cut or copied, ca 1800
Rare example of a portion of a broadside with verses meant to be cut or copied, ca 1800
Valentine's Day - American valentine puzzle found in England. With a magical folding technique, this puzzle can be folded into a secure packet. Once opened, gradually reveal separate images and poems. The prize at the center is often a romantic image or poem, ca 1816
American valentine puzzle found in England. With a magical folding technique, this puzzle can be folded into a secure packet. Once opened, gradually reveal separate images and poems. The prize at the center is often a romantic image or poem, ca 1816
Colonists began exchanging handmade cards in the 1700s, but rarely did any of these cards survive. The precursor to valentines was the art of scherenschnitte, or the German name of "scissor cutting." One of the earliest traditional forms of scherenschnitte in America was produced by the Seventh Day Baptist sisters at Ephrata, Pennsylvania, who utilized the cut patterns to form symmetrical designs in their songbooks. Mennonites, Schwenkfelders, and other religious sects also used the medium for school rewards and Lieves Briefe or love letters which eventually melded with the English Valentine. Cut-paper valentines, often with a written message and carefully applied colors, tended to feature hearts and doves as decorated motifs.

In the United States, the first mass-produced valentines of embossed paper lace were produced and sold shortly after 1847 by Esther Howland (1828-1904) of Worcester, Massachusetts. Her father operated a large book and stationery store. Esther Howland took her inspiration from an English valentine she had received. Their expectations were for $200 In orders. Unexpectedly, her brother returned with $5000 in advance sales. With the help of friend and the first famous assembly line, her business was born. Advertising and word-of-mouth led to a $100,000 a year business.

Valentine's Day - Rare handmade token of love, removed from an album. Paper flowers, painted leaves; petals unfold to reveal messages of love and affection, ca 1820-40
Rare handmade token of love, removed from an album. Paper flowers, painted leaves; petals unfold to reveal messages of love and affection, ca 1820-40
Valentine's Day - Paradise Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Ink on wove paper, 1799 Inscribed - Four hearts in one you do behold, & they in Each other do infold, I Cut them out on such a Night, & send them to my hearts delight, On such A Night the hour of Nine, I Chuse you for my valintine, I Chuse you out from all the rest, The reason is I liked you best, Some draw valentines by lotts, Some draw them that they love not, But I draw you wich I do Chuse, I hope you will not refuse, My heart within by Breast doth Ake, A Tonge I have but dare not speak, If I should speak & should not speed, then my poor heart will break indeed
Paradise Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Ink on wove paper, 1799 Inscribed - Four hearts in one you do behold, & they in Each other do infold, I Cut them out on such a Night, & send them to my hearts delight, On such A Night the hour of Nine, I Chuse you for my valintine, I Chuse you out from all the rest, The reason is I liked you best, Some draw valentines by lotts, Some draw them that they love not, But I draw you wich I do Chuse, I hope you will not refuse, My heart within by Breast doth Ake, A Tonge I have but dare not speak, If I should speak & should not speed, then my poor heart will break indeed


It is estimated that over one billion Valentine's Day cards are purchased each year. Valentine's Day is the second most popular holiday, Christmas being the first most popular holiday. Valentine's Day is one day in February that excites women across the country and probably the most significant day during the entire year. Instead of heading over to your favorite card shop, why not hit your local antique shop, pick out a beautiful postcard from the turn of the century. This is something she will certainly cherish for years to come!
Source: Research & text by Bryan Wright

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