Collecting Valentines — The Language of Love Part Four

posted by Karen Hood
Friday, January 15, 2010

by Nancy Rosin
Source: The Ephemera Society of America

Postcard Valentines. “Beauty” under a newspaper,
signed Ellen Clapsaddle, 1912; Early baseball design. ca. 1910;
Beautiful woman, by Samuel L. Schmucker, Winsch Publishing Co., 1910; Mechanical postcard, Frances Brundage design, 1910.

4. Varieties of Valentines
I have already mentioned a number of types — but basically there are the machine-made and the handmade. In the machine made category I would include the engravings, the lithographs, and the wood-block designs, the aquatints, the embossed lace, the openwork lace, the Victorian die-cut layered ones, the postcards, the fans, the mechanicals, and the German die-cuts of the turn of the century.

In the handmade category we can include the folded and cutout designs, called scherenschnitte, fraktur, cut-paper designs such as the heart and hand motif, the devotionals — also often called knipsel or canivets, pin-pricks, stencil (poonah or theorem) designs, labyrinths or mazes, acrostics, puzzle-purses, cobwebs, rebuses, watchpapers, hair-decorated, handwritten, embroidered, watercolored, and probably others I cannot think of at the moment!

Three-dimensional items include elaborate Sailor’s Valentines made of shells, glass rolling pins, corset stays–called “busks”– made of wood or whalebone, Welsh love spoons, knitting sheaths, and bobbins. Magnificent fans, impressive jewelry, fine gloves, and a wide variety of utilitarian and decorative boxes and items made from wood, silver, brass, enamel, or ivory… all might be decorated with motifs signifying love, courtship, betrothal, and marriage. Love-letter seals and “love token” coins are distant cousins, but stretch the concept of the Valentine as a token of love which might be given any day of the year. The list is endless, and each area is worthy of a collection by itself.

5. The Creation of a Collection
First, one has to be intrigued and fascinated by the concepts I have outlined already. Even if one has no idea of the majesty of the things I described, if you are open to learning, and like the intrinsic theme, I think you’re set for some fun. There are a great many areas for collecting valentines — from a few dollars to a huge amount for very serious pieces which may be coveted by long-established collectors. Some people focus on one particular period or style — I know someone with a vast and fabulous collection of Valentines with the theme of golf — others select colorful children, open-out fans, postcards, or the works of specific artists, like Clapsaddle, Brundage, or Greenaway, for example. Sometimes it’s good to get a little “price guide” which you can use as a form of checklist — realizing, of course, that price lists have very little merit, for the prices change rapidly, and vary according to location and demand. Once you start, it’s good to go to antique fairs, auctions, paper shows (the term is officially “ephemera”) and museums. Seeing the actual pieces is the very best way to acquire knowledge. The books on the subject are out of print, but most good libraries have them, and they should be sought with determination. Knowledge is essential before you make any significant financial commitment. The National Valentine Collector’s Association provides a quarterly newsletter, with lots of information, a mail-bid auction, annual meetings in various locations around the country, and the opportunity to meet other people who share the same interest. This is definitely a subject area which enraptures — and delivers its rewards in so many ways. The artistry and elegance, the craftsmanship of hand- or machine-made varieties, and the accompanying history make this a collectors’ paradise!


This is a five-part article. Stay tuned during the rest of the week for the continuation. Tomorrow: The Enduring Love of a Collector. In the meantime, if you’re looking for great Valentine’s Day gifts, check out Karen’s Collectors Cottage!

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