Collecting Valentines — The Language of Love

posted by Karen Hood
Tuesday, January 12, 2010

by Nancy Rosin
Source: The Ephemera Society of America

Biedermeir style of love-offering/friendship card.
Made by Johannes Endletzberger, Vienna, ca. 1820.

1. Introduction
For more than twenty-five years, Valentines have been a passion for me — and I have constantly sought examples of virtually every kind that exists! Each acquisition seemed to lead to another, and each was a piece of the puzzle that I was assembling. In this article, I hope to convey to the “Valentine audience” the history and beauty of these treasures I collect, as well as the enduring passion which has led me to seek the rare and unusual, as well as the most simple, unassuming tokens. Through my articles, my lectures, and my video, I believe that I am helping to make the public more aware of the fascinating story of the Valentine. By presenting information about the early history, the evolution of the Valentine, and some of the varieties that exist, I hope to further establish them as a sophisticated, intellectual subject, important as social documentary, and worthy of scholarly recognition as a serious research and collecting area. Messages of love span the centuries, and are interwoven with culture to create a very poignant view of history and the people who lived during those times.

Paper collectibles are often known as “ephemera” – a broad word used to include items, which were meant to be “ephemeral”, or not long lasting, and often discarded. While Valentines are included in this broad category, I truly believe that most were intended to be cherished and saved — and never meant to have a transitory quality. Collectors and historians recognize the importance of this memorabilia in adding the personal details to history. Learning about people and events by studying such treasures is a key to completing the picture of the people who lived through those events. In reading a love note so carefully and beautifully written in Spencerian script on the interior page of a delicate Valentine, or perhaps simply by holding in your hand a primitive fraktur of the Pennsylvania Germans, one discovers a common denominator, that they were created out of love, cherished, saved, and handed down to us as nearly-sacred mementos. I can’t think of a more wonderful thing to collect! Additionally, their broad range provides opportunities for collectors of all levels, interests, and pocketbooks.

Elaborate English Valentine, openwork
cameo-embossed lace paper.
Made by Meek, ca. 1840.

The challenge of finding representative examples became a driving force in the creation of my truly comprehensive collection. To say that it was a passion is an understatement! It became a hobby shared with my husband during our antique journeys around the country, and once the children were grown, a reason for a number of European explorations to auctions and flea markets! Starting with a small display in a wall case at our local elementary school, and an article written about it by a school parent for a shopper newspaper, my interest became further encouraged. I developed programs and displays as the hobby took on a life of its’ own! Now, many years later, the numerous magazine articles and major events have enabled me to share the passion with an increasingly fascinated audience. People don’t realize that Valentine’s Day was such a significant social event, enjoyed by every strata of society, and celebrated extensively. Businesses thrived on it, as they capitalized on the passion of the population by creating a wide array of Valentine articles. Gifts of jewelry, lingerie, perfume, fans, and magnificent Valentines on elegant lace paper – as well as scathing satire on cheap paper for another audience — were only some of the options. Handmade cut-paper or collages of woven hair and silk ribbons, hand-embellished watch papers to set within the case of a pocket watch, and shell-encrusted fantasies brought by sailors from distant shores – are just a few of the Valentine treasures one can still find.

Famous artists such as Francesco Bartolozzi, George Cruikshank, Walter Crane, Kate Greenaway, Winslow Homer, Grace Drayton, Frances Brundage – and numerous others — designed wonderful Valentines. Movie themes such as the Disney cartoon characters and the Wizard of Oz are delightful additions to collections and add a unique perspective, while helping to enlarge the scope to include the modern Valentine.

Especially popular now are the die-cut open-out Valentines from the turn of the century, with their honeycomb tissue and delightful chromo-lithographed images of everything from the emerging transportation motif to adorable children and moveable fans! It is a wonderful category, which is a popular collecting destination. I can’t think of another subject that provides such a variety of things to find – or which possesses such a long and fascinating history. For me, collecting is a great source of pleasure, with the search, the find, the acquisition, and lastly — the sharing of the treasure, providing the essential encouragement.


This is a five-part article. Stay tuned during the rest of the week for the continuation. Tomorrow: The Origin of Saint Valentine’s Day.

Leave a Reply