American valentine puzzle found in England. With a special 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

Valentine´s Day is easily derided as a commercial holiday introduced by florists and the chocolate industry (which in some countries is true) but in fact, goes back a long time – at least in Europe.


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.

There used to be a theory that it was a Christian attempt to supercede the Roman festival of Lupercalia. While there are some common elements, this is no longer believed.

There were several Christian martyrs named “Valentine”, at least two of which were beatified and honored on February 14.

The earliest recorded connection of the day to romantic love was made in a poem by Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th century. In “Parlement of Foules” (Parliament of Fowls, 1382), he writes “For this was on St. Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate”. The theme was shared in several other contemporary poems as well. In Chaucer´s time, the date of Valentine corresponded to the beginning of spring, when birds were indeed beginning to mate and nest. Things have shifted a little since, thanks to Calendar reforms in the 16th century.


Paradise Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Ink on wove paper, 1799

The earliest description of February 14 as an annual celebration of love appears in the Charter of the Court of Love, allegedly issued by Charles VI of France at Mantes-la-Jolie in 1400. It describes lavish festivities to be attended by several members of the royal court, including a feast, amorous song and poetry competitions, jousting and dancing. Amid these festivities, the attending ladies would hear and rule on disputes from lovers. No other record of the court exists, and none of those named in the charter were present at Mantes except Charles’s queen, Isabeau of Bavaria, who may well have imagined it all while waiting out a plague.

Written valentines began to appear after 1400. Paper valentines originated in the 1500s, being exchanged in Europe and being given in place of valentine gifts and oral or musical valentine greetings. They were particularly popular in England.

The first written valentine (formerly known as “poetical or amorous addresses”) is traditionally attributed to the imprisoned Charles, Duke of Orleans, in 1415. While confined in the Tower of London after the Battle of Agincourt, the young Duke reportedly passed his time by writing romantic verses for his wife in France. Approximately sixty of the Duke’s poems remain and can be seen among the royal papers in the British Museum. They are credited with being the first modern day valentines.


Paper flowers, painted leaves; petals unfold to reveal messages of love and affection, ca 1820-40

By the Sixteenth Century, written valentines were commonplace and by the Seventeenth Century, it was a widespread tradition in England and other Western countries for friends and sweethearts to exchange gifts and notes on February 14.

During the early 1700s, Charles II of Sweden brought the Persian poetical art known as the “language of flowers” to Europe and throughout the Eighteenth Century, floral dictionaries were published, permitting the exchange of romantic secrets via a lily or lilac, for example, culminating in entire conversations taking place within a bouquet of flowers. The more popular the flower, the more traditions and meaning were associated with it. The red rose, for instance, believed to be the favored flower of Venus, Roman Goddess of Love, became universally accepted to represent romantic love. Thus, the custom of giving red roses on Valentine’s Day quickly gained popularity. Source


It was not until the 1790s that these books of verses became popular. Gentlemen would copy verses from these manuals, and give them to their intended loved ones.

The modern cliché Valentine’s Day poem can be found in the collection of English nursery rhymes Gammer Gurton’s Garland (1784):

The rose is red, the violet’s blue,

The honey’s sweet, and so are you.
Thou art my love and I am thine;
I drew thee to my Valentine:
The lot was cast and then I drew,

And Fortune said it shou’d be you.


This is possibly the oldest printed Valentine’s card in the world. The delicate card has been pierced to produce a lace effect in the corners and is decorated with cupids, doves and flowers which were probably hand coloured after printing. It was published on 12th January 1797 by John Fairburn of 146, Minories, London. Source

By 1797, printers had already begun producing a limited number of cards with verses and sketches, called “mechanical valentines,” and a reduction in postal rates in the next century ushered in the less personal but easier practice of mailing Valentines. That, in turn, made it possible for the first time to exchange cards anonymously, which is taken as the reason for the sudden appearance of racy verse in an era otherwise prudishly Victorian

Paper Valentines became so popular in England in the early 19th century that they were assembled in factories. Fancy Valentines were made with real lace and ribbons, with paper lace introduced in the mid-19th century.


Another popular custom among young women was fortune-telling tricks meant to reveal the name of their future spouse. For example, The Connoisseur of 1754 reports this bit of Valentine love magic:


Last Friday was St. Valentine’s Day, and the night before I got five bay leaves and pinned four on the corners of my pillow, and the fifth to the middle; and then if I dreamt of my sweetheart, Betty said we should be married before the year was out. But to make it more sure I boiled an egg hard and took out the yolk and filled it with salt; and when I went to bed ate it shell and all without speaking or drinking after it.

Colonial women wrote their lovers’ names on bits of paper, rolled them in clay, and put them into a vessel of water; the first that rose to the top was their valentine.

Another custom had it that the first person you lay eyes on Valentine’s morning becomes your spouse. Source

 As a result, many young women would arise in the morning, keeping their eyes shut until a friend or family member advised them. It was usually planned by the family to have a pleasing male awaiting the young woman’s first gaze. Source 

From the foregoing, it would appear that Valentines Day was only for the adults and young adults, but younger children had their own traditions. They would run from house to house begging for pence by singing: “Good morrow, Valentine, First ’tis yours, then ’tis mine, So please give me a Valentine.”.Source


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, but Howland took her inspiration from an English Valentine she had received from a business associate of her father. Intrigued with the idea of making similar Valentines, Howland began her business by importing paper lace and floral decorations from England. A writer in Graham’s American Monthly observed in 1849, “Saint Valentine’s Day … is becoming, nay it has become, a national holyday.”


Esther Howland Valentine, circa 1850

One popular style of early American card from 1840 to approximately 1860 was the “Daguerreotype,” a photographic process using old-time tintype in the center of a card surrounded by an ornametal wreath. Another was the “Mirror Valentine,” which contained a small mirror placed in the center to reflect the face of the recipient.



Card and envelope, ca.1855



However, the sending of valentine greetings in America did not become a true tradition until around the time of the Civil War (1861-1865) when valentine cards often depicted sweethearts parting, or a tent with flaps that opened to reveal a soldier.

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These were known as “windows.” In peace time, the “window” would be a church door opening to reveal a bridge and groom. Another Civil War valentine novelty was for the card to have a place for the sender to include a lock of hair. By the early 1800s, valentines began to be assembled in factories. Such early manufactured valentines were rather simplistic, composed of black-and-white pictures painted by the factory workers.



Fancy valentines comprised of real lace and ribbons were introduced in the mid-1800s. Paper lace began to be introduced to the cards later in the 1800s, These valentines also contained delicate and artistic messages with pictures of turtledoves, lovers’ knots in gold or silver, bows and arrow, Cupids and bleeding hearts.

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During the Victorian Era and its printing advances, Valentine cards became even more popular and the modern postal service of the age implmented the “penny post,” which made it easier to mail written valentines. (Prior to that time, postage was so expensive that most cards were hand-delivered and usually left on doorsteps.) Known as “penny postcards” (because they were mailed with a one-penny postage stamp), these valentine greetings were very popular from around 1890 to 1917.

During this time, it was also considered “proper” to collect and display collections of postcards and trade cards in the Victorian and Edwardian parlor. Friends and guests would be invited to sit for hours, leafing through albums while they visited. This custom gained so much popularity that photographers, studios, printers and business continually strived for new and exciting subjects to satisfy a public which was anxious for innovative items in order to impress their acquaintances.


To make their cards stand out, people often sought for real photographic postcards. As opposed to mass-produced lithographs, these were actual photographs made with a postcard-printed back. The photography studios frequently employed women to hand-tint and color the black-and-white images. Some of the best of these cards came from Germany…famous for its detailed and colorful lithography. Popular subjects included women, children, flowers and couples, posed and arranged in an effort to portray the idealized virtues of the Era. Indeed, it was in England that the first commercial-type valentine was produced on embossed paper, later perforated to make a lace-type design. Some of these cards contained tiny mirrors with the message: “Look at my Beloved,” while others were called “Cobweb Valentines” because the center could be lifted by a tassel to reveal a cobweb effect of paper and underneath, a picture of a couple or a romantic message.


1867 Valentine with moveable fan.


Double-layered, openwork, cameo-embossed lace by the English firm of  Joseph Meek,  circa 1850, reflects the epitome of the workmanship of “The Golden Era.” The top layer is adorned with cabochon “faux  jewels”,  silk chiffon and  silver Dresden die-cuts; a central window, bordered with a wreath of silvered leaves, reveals a subtle image of flowers — a message written in the Language of Flowers. When the top layer is lifted, the flowers are revealed as an exquisite watercolor painting.

Although pre-Victorian valentines are virtually unavailable today, cards have survived over a century due chiefly to the fact that they began to be mass-produced around 1850. However, the majority of early Victorian valentines were customarily made by hand from honeycombed tissue, watercolors, paper puffs, colored inks, embossed paper hearts and exquisite lace. These were truly beautifully-created small works of art, often adorned with silk or satin (in addition) to lace, flowers or feathers and even gold leaf. Such fragile honeycomb designs remained the vogue until around 1909.

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Some of the most unusual valentines were fashioned by lonely sailors during this time…unique cards sporting seashells of various sizes employed to create hearts, flowers and other designs, or to cover heart-shaped boxes. Caroline´s parlour set includes a sailor´s valentine, though it is a bit anachronistically early, her story being set in 1812.

Sailors also sent what were known as “Busk Valentines,” rounded long sticks fashioned from ivory or wood, somewhat resembling a tongue depressor but approximately five time longer. Upon these sticks, the sailor would carve hearts and other loving designs. The “Busk Valentine” was worn by the sailor’s sweetheart inside her corset.

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1865 Busk Valentine;  Sailor´s Valentine


It was not unusual for a manufactured valentine of this era to cost as much as a month’s earnings, particularly the “proposal valentines” which were very popular and might contain the depiction of a church or a ring. In keeping with Victorian etiquette, it was considered improper for a lady to send a valentine greeting to a man.

Still, most Valentines were modestly priced, and targeted toward a mass audience. And many were designed for humorous effect, with caricatures of particular professions or ethnic groups. Indeed, many Valentines in the late 1800s were intended as jokes, and the sending of humorous cards was a fad for many years.  The most popular form was the “vinegar Valentine” which was both snarky and crude and were often sent anonymously to unwanted Valentines.

The day also expanded to expressions of affection among relatives and friends.

The invention of chocolate candy in the 1830s suggested the idea of selling Valentines chocolate as well as candy and flowers to give as gifts on Valentine’s Day; by 1861, the Quaker Cadbury brothers were selling Valentines candy in heart-shaped boxes in England.

Since the 19th century, handwritten notes have given way to mass-produced greeting cards. As machines made valentines dropped in quality, so did interest in the observance. As early as the 1860s, kids were making valentines or buying them at the store to give to each other in school, just as you do today. By the 20th century it had become mostly a children’s celebration observed in the schools with the drawing of names and cardboard boxes decorated to receive the cards.

At the turn of the century, making valentines was a popular pastime for girls.


4 Leaping Frog Designs

1904 Valentine Card


1914 Valentine Card.

The 1910’s saw the introduction of the Hall Brothers Company (know today as Hallmark), who started printing their own version of the Valentine’s Day card in 1915.

A biography of Jerry Siegel, creator of Superman,  Jewish and born in 1914, mentions that he participated in his class exchange of valentines at school (though he was not very popular, so the following year, he sent a card to himself), so the tradition was already established in the 1920s and at least some Jewish children took part.

“Around 1928, when I was in the second grade, a good part of the winter was spent constructing what I recall as a fantastic make-believe classroom post office so that we little ones could draw, write, and mail valentines to one another, have them posted, sorted, and finally delivered by one another to mailboxes just as we learned occurred in the regular postal service. I remember that the protracted activity was huge, exciting fun, especially when I took my turn as postmaster, collecting and disbursing play stamps and play money. Even then, seventy years ago, Saint Valentine’s Day was a big event in the life of a child, but I don’t recollect that there was any commercialization of the holiday in our out-of-the-way town. No radio or TV there, no neon lights, hype, or advertising downtown that I can remember. Kids made their own valentines to send, usually had no money to buy them, and therefore the entire extended drawing, writing, mailing, posting, and delivery concept seems to me even now to have been a worthwhile educational experience.” Source

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Some 1920’s Valentine’s Day cards, today, can be described as both inappropriate and disturbing.  While the content wasn’t insulting in nature, headlines such as “I would like you for my dictator” paint a different picture of love (and show a different sense of humour) than we see today.


People also held Valentine Parties by that time.

“The year is 1928, and the good hostess is planning a Valentine’s Party for her friends and family. “The Farmer’s Wife”, a popular magazine of the day was ready to supply “games for a jolly crowd”. In some ways parties were more elaborate and well planned then, but at the same time a good hostess used what simple resources she had available. She was “frugal” without even realizing it! Here are a selection of suggested games from that year. I think you will find in the 21st century, these can still bring fun and laughter into your home!

Red Hearts, Good Hearts

Hang a number of colored hearts about the room, fastened on walls and furniture. Explain before the game that only red hearts are good ones and that if anyone touches a heart of another color or fails to find a red heart she must drop out of the game. Have a few less red hearts than players and remove 2 or 3 of them at each interval. Players form in a circle and march to music. When the music stops suddenly each players tries to find for herself a red heart and must drop out if she does not succeed.

Sing-a-Song Race

Players are divided into four groups called sopranos, altos, tenors and bases. Each group selects a song to sing and at a given time all begin singing. The group to first completely finish it’s song is the winner. Several attempts are sometimes necessary before an entire song can be sung because of the laughter and hubbub.


Cut four large hearts from strong paper. Divide players into two equal lines, which face each other from opposite sides of the room. Give two of the hearts to the first player in one line, the other two to the player at the opposite end of the other line. At a signal these players place their hearts on the floor, one at a time, and hop on them to the other line, whirl and return to their own line, passing on the hearts to the player next in line who repeats. The winning line is the one finishing first. Source


From a 1935 magazine



While love was still the prevailing theme on valentines during the Great Depression, the recession had a profound effect on the designs of the decade leaving the palettes often feeling sallow and muted.


1940s valentine kit

With WWII on everyone’s mind, Valentines in this generation featured tag lines such as “I’m ‘gunner’ ask you, do I have a fighting chance of being your Valentine?”. With many men away at war fighting World War II, many schools had children send valentines to the soldiers.

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The 1950’s saw the introduction of the popular “studio card,” tall, narrow humorous greeting cards, along with a return to the light-hearted Valentine. In a response to the Beatnick anti-establishment movement, Hallmark and American Greetings launched their own lines of irreverent and witty cards to appeal to the new generation of lovers.

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Valentine in the 1950s

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In the 1960s, with the Civil Rights Movement, Hallmark began to sell valentines meant for African-American people instead of only white people. Previously, black characters had appeared on valentines, but they were usually stereotypes to be made fun of.


What started as the dawn of a golden era for many Americans ended in a country fragmented, divided by war and politics.  The color palette of the 1960s is one of the darkest yet still more vibrant than it’s predecessors.The mid 1970’s brought back a sense of lightheartedness as disco became the forefront of pop culture.

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Until the 1970s, for the less popular kids, valentine´s day at school was a depressing experience captured in 1975´s “Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown”. The most popular kids got many valentines, and some kids didn’t get any!

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Then teachers decided kids should have to give valentines to everyone in the class.

“On one day we made our Valentine’s boxes. All we had to do was bring some type of box from home, a shoe box, a cereal box, an oatmeal box, any type of box that would hold plenty of Valentines. Or “Valentimes” as most of the little kids called them back then.  Then on day one the teacher would bring out all kinds of scraps and decorations and we would decorate our boxes. These would be our Mailboxes to receive our Valentines in the next day. Gluing, Taping, cutting, till we were bored and started making glue hands under the desk and peeling them off.
“Everyone gets a Valentine” was the rule back then. You had a choice at Walmart. Scooby Doo or Josie and the Pussy Cats, or Grape Ape Valentines. The rich kids would get Valentines that had lollypops or pixie stix on them. Then you wrote names on each one. IF you really liked a boy or girl, you chose one that said something like “YOU OTTER KNOW I LOVE YOU” on it. If you really really liked them , you bought them a big one, separate.
The next day was great, going from Mailbox to Mailbox, then reading your Valentines. Then it was cookie time. Then you got to go home, buzzed on sugar.” Source


In the second half of the 20th century, the practice of exchanging cards was extended to all manner of gifts. Such gifts typically include roses and chocolates packed in a red satin, heart-shaped box. In the 1980s, the diamond industry began to promote Valentine’s Day as an occasion for giving jewelry.

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1980s valentines

As we leave the party days of the 1980’s and with grunge at the bleeding edge of pop culture, the palette of the 1990’s is understandably muted and withdrawn.

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1990s valentines

In 1994, the first e-card is sent.

In the later 20th and early 21st centuries, Valentine´s day customs have also spread to other countries along with other aspects of American pop culture, but its impact so far has been rather more limited than that of Halloween, or that of US pop-culture inspired aspects of Christmas (such as Santa Claus).


In Japan, a slightly different version of a holiday based on a lovers’ story called Tanabata (七夕) has been celebrated for centuries, on July 7 (Gregorian calendar). It has been considered by Westerners as similar to St. Valentine’s Day, but it’s not related to it, and its origins are completely different  (the Chinese QiXi festival).


As for Valentine´s Day itself, Morozoff Ltd. introduced the holiday for the first time in 1936, when it ran an advertisement aimed at foreigners. Later in 1953 it began promoting the giving of heart-shaped chocolates; other Japanese confectionery companies followed suit thereafter. Further campaigns during the 1960s popularized the custom.[87][88]

The custom that only women give chocolates to men may have originated from the translation error of a chocolate-company executive during the initial campaigns. In particular, office ladies give chocolate to their co-workers. Unlike western countries, gifts such as greeting cards, candies, flowers, or dinner dates are uncommon, and most of the activity about the gifts is about giving the right amount of chocolate to each person. Japanese chocolate companies make half their annual sales during this time of the year.[89]

Many women feel obliged to give chocolates to all male co-workers, except when the day falls on a Sunday, a holiday. This is known as giri-choko (義理チョコ), from giri (“obligation”) and choko, (“chocolate”), with unpopular co-workers receiving only “ultra-obligatory” chō-giri choko cheap chocolate. This contrasts with honmei-choko (本命チョコ, favorite chocolate), chocolate given to a loved one. Friends, especially girls, may exchange chocolate referred to as tomo-choko (友チョコ); from tomo meaning “friend”.

In the 1980s the Japanese National Confectionery Industry Association launched a successful campaign to make March 14 a “reply day”, where men are expected to return the favour to those who gave them chocolates on Valentine’s Day, calling it White Day for the color of the chocolates being offered.

In Japan, the romantic “date night” associated to Valentine’s Day is celebrated on Christmas Eve.[92


In China, the common situation is the man gives chocolate, flowers or both to the woman that he loves. In Chinese, Valentine’s Day is called lovers’ festival (simplified Chinese: 情人节; traditional Chinese: 情人節; pinyin: qíng rén jié). The so-called “Chinese Valentine’s Day” is the Qixi Festival, celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. It commemorates a day on which a legendary cowherder and weaving maid are allowed to be together. Valentine’s Day on February 14 is not celebrated because it is often too close to the Chinese New Year, which usually falls on either January or February. In Chinese culture, there is an older observance related to lovers, called “The Night of Sevens” (Chinese: 七夕; pinyin: Qi Xi). According to the legend, the Cowherd star and the Weaver Maid star are normally separated by the Milky Way (silvery river) but are allowed to meet by crossing it on the 7th day of the 7th month of the Chinese calendar.

In recent years, celebrating White Day has also become fashionable among some young people.

So, how would each of our American Girls experience Valentine´s Day?

  • Kaya, obviously, would not know this holiday.
  • Any of the girls before the late 1800s would not have sent cards but would have shared the excitement of the day: who (or whose older sister) gets one from whom. (Felicity, Elizabeth, Caroline, Marie-Grace, Cecile, Kirsten)
  • Josefina would know the day as “San Valentin”. People named Valentin or Valentina would celebrate their name day.  The custom of giving valentines would probably be less common and established than in the English-speaking countries but would already be known.
  • Addy might have made Valentines in school to give to her friends and dear ones.

By Samantha´s time, things have changed.

  • Samantha´s Winter Amusements included a kit for making valentines, and she had a craft book with guides how to make valentines as well. The envelope that contained the trimmings explained that this was a popular pastime for girls at the turn of the century. In “Changes for Samantha”, she enjoys making valentines with Aunt Cornelia every day after school.


  • Rebecca would probably not have celebrated Valentine, as at the time it was still a Catholic holiday (it was taken off the Church calendar in 1969), although the occasion had become increasingly secularized by the time and she could have got caught up in her classmates´ excitement. The dilemma is still the same today: Orthodox rabbis advise not to participate in Valentine’s Day traditions because of the holiday’s association with the saint, while Conservative and Reformed rabbis lean towards, “Sure, it’s okay to buy your significant other flowers and chocolates in celebration of your love—on February 14th and any other day of the year.”
  • Kit and Ruthie would have made valentines to exchange at school and might even have had a Valentine´s party. Molly and Emily would perhaps have been asked by their teacher to make valentines for the soldiers.
  • By Julie´s time, the rule would have been that everyone gets a valentine.
  • In some contemporary schools, the custom of making valentines has been abandoned by now.


Source, and Wikipedia’s_Day/Colonial_Valentines.php/