There are two ways to collect Valentines. One is to receive them from your ardent admirers and the other is to buy them yourself, for yourself. Although we hope you are showered with the former, we’ll focus on the latter.
Initially set aside in by the early Roman Catholic church to recognize a martyred priest from Terni, Italy, St. Valentines day would, in early Medieval times, eventually become associated less with the martyred saint and more with the sending of romantic love poems to one’s paramour. Those who were not poetic (or who couldn’t read or write), hired poets to create their love letters on their behalf. Think “Cyrano.” This practice of hiring poets reached a turning point in the late 18th century, when printers began producing the modern precursor to today’s greeting card. By the mid 19th century, with the commercialization of the venerable holiday in full swing, the printed Valentine’s Day card all but usurped the hand written love declaration.
The traditional valentine comes in many shapes and sizes; from delicate laced paper folding cards to intricate geometric assemblage of sea shells, framed and behind glass. (Click images to see their listing pages on eBay.)
Given the breadth and depth of various mass produced and handmade Valentines that have been continually produced since the early 1800′s, it only makes sense that one of our earliest commercialized holidays would also be one of the most collected. Valentine recipients have always had a habit of saving these otherwise perishable tokens of affection which is a real boon for today’s collector. There is so much from which to choose! On eBay alone, there are over 35,000 listings in the Collectibles top level category with the word “valentine” in the title. I browsed through the results for this post and discovered a dizzying variety of valentines. A small sampling of the more interesting examples follow. Like a couple of recent-vintage cards from Grey Garden’s, “Little” Edie Beale and another from Deborah Harry of Blondie.
In your hunting, keep an eye out for two of the most prominent names in vintage valentines, Raphael Tuck and Magnus Greiner. They range in price from the very affordable $10 to several hundred dollars for the rarest examples.
For anyone assuming that snark is a 21st century invention, the sub genre of Valentines called “Vinegar Valentines” will put that assumption to rest. Vinegar Valentines are cards that usually have an insulting short verse under a grotesque caricature meant to represent the recipient as a particular “type” like a drunkard, a loose woman, a grossly overweight person or even an old maid…
These were usually sent through the mail, anonymously (Cowardly cads!). Some were so “mean” that some upstanding post office clerks would often refuse to deliver them! There are lots of these available on eBay.
Most seem tame by today’s meanness standards. Thankfully, the custom of sending mean Valentines has gone out of fashion. (What the world does not need now, is more snark.)
It’s never too late to start a new collection. The Valentine collecting hobby still offers an affordable entry into a diverse and rewarding area of interest to all: (Who doesn’t like receiving a Valentine?)