A Flowering of Affection: Victorian Valentine Cards at the Lilly Library
The first modern Valentine cards
Valentine's Day is a holiday with a long history. Though it bears a saint's name, its origins seem more firmly rooted in pagan celebrations of the beginning of spring than in the history of its martyred namesakes. Valentine's Day traditions are wide-ranging, but have long involved the exchange of some love token or small gift with one's valentine. In 18th century England and North America, these exchanges often took the form of hand-made valentine cards. By the 19th century, these traditions expanded. Home-made cards were widely replaced by commercially produced valentine cards, and the cards were sent not only to one special valentine, but often to a wider circle of friends and relations.
At first, these valentines weren't cards at all. Decorated writing papers had become popular in the years before the turn of the century, and by 1800 decorated papers appeared with Valentine's Day themes.
When uniform postal rates for the entire United Kingdom were established in 1840, the English Valentine card tradition began in earnest. Decorated papers were still the norm at this time. The papers were folded sheets in quarto size, commonly decorated with embossed borders as well as pictorial scenes. The sheet would be folded and sealed with wax for mailing.