Valentine’s Day Traditions

Dear Lee,

Hello, February! ‘Tis the season of love and … Valentine’s Day cards. Vintage valentines cards are favorite collectibles because of their sentiments and graphics. If you are thinking of collecting old cards or find some in a box in your attic or at a flea market, remember that how they were made and what they were made of helps tell their age. The first commercial valentines in the United States were made in the 1840s by Esther Howland of Massachusetts. She used real lace and fancy envelopes with her freehand drawings. Howland’s cards were sophisticated and expensive. She started an industry making cards with the help of artists and printing machines.

In the 1890s, embossed “mechanicals,” or valentines with moving parts, were popular. Honeycomb tissue that popped up when the card was opened was used from the 1840s to the 1930s, and it is back in favor again. Who doesn’t love the jokes and insults of “Penny Dreadfuls?” These insulting cartoons were popular in the 1930s through the 1940s.

Most adults remember the little cards sold in packages with enough for a whole classroom and the teacher. Distributing those into lunch bags with each child’s name written on them is a rite of passage in grade schools. Did you know that small die-cut cards picturing children were first sold on a long sheet of thick paper to be punched, not cut, out? Five-and-dime stores sold packets of 25, one for each classmate and a large one for the teacher, with envelopes for 19 cents. Everyone in the class could receive a card so no one would feel left out. And by the mid-1940s, sweetness was added to the day with heart-shaped boxes with chocolate candy designed just for the holiday.

You can date old valentines by the style of the clothes, cars, hairdos, even houses or, perhaps, a phone. Save the cards that indicate a date, like the year of an Olympics, World’s Fair or Disney movie.

If some vintage greeting cards catch your eye, use acid-free paper or boxes to preserve them. You can learn more from the National Valentine Collectors Association (ValentineCollectors.com) or the Greeting Card Association (GreetingCard.org). The clubs are also listed on Kovels.com.

Happy Valentine’s Day!


This c.1920-1930s valentine is worth about $10 to $20.



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