Dear Lee,

We can’t help ourselves. We are fond of vintage Valentine’s Day cards. We can thank Esther Howland of Massachusetts for the first commercial Valentine’s Day cards in the United States. In the 1840s, she added lace to her own drawings and put them in decorated envelopes. A tradition—and an industry—was born.

You can date old valentines by the style of the clothes, cars, hairdos, houses and even furniture. As the boomer generation starts looking over its shoulder, valentines from the 1960s and 1970s are becoming more collectible. Adults who went to grade school in those decades remember the cards that were punched out of big pieces of stiff paper and sold in packets, with matching (flimsy) envelopes. One card for each person in the classroom and a special one for the teacher!

If you run across those cards, or better yet, a whole box of them, you’ll easily be able to spot the era they were made. Hot pinks, bright reds, stylized children with big eyes and standard sayings such as “Bee My Valentine” on a card decorated with bees made them distinctive. The graphics, sentiments and condition all make the cards collectible.

Flea markets and craft shows are the most likely source of collections, as well boxes in your parents’ or grandparents’ attics and basements. Don’t forget my prime rule: Never throw out a box without going through it carefully!

If you find some cards you really like, use acid-free paper or boxes to preserve them. Go to the National Valentine Collectors Association ( or the Greeting Card Association ( for more information.

Happy Valentine’s Day (and happy collecting!)

valentines 1970s


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