The first commercial Valentine’s Day cards in the United States were made in the 1840s by Esther Howland of Massachusetts, who added lace to her own drawings and put them in decorated envelopes. She started an industry making cards with the help of artists and printing machines.

In the 1890s, embossed valentines with moving parts called “mechanicals” came into vogue. Honeycomb tissue that popped up when the card was opened was used from the 1840s to the 1930s. So-called Penny Dreadfuls started being made in the 1930s through the 1940s. They contained jokes and insults. By the mid-1940s, sweet Valentine’s Day cards were often accompanied by heart-shaped boxes with chocolate candy designed just for the holiday.

If you find old valentines at flea markets or yard sales, you can date them by the style of the clothes, cars, hairdos, house styles or even a phone. Save the cards that have a date, like the year of an Olympics, World’s Fair or Disney movie. Use acid-free paper or boxes to preserve vintage cards.

To find out more, search for “Valentines,” or sites like the National Valentine Collectors Association.

vintage victorian die cut honeycomb valentine card

Victorian Valentine’s Day card, die-cut and embossed with paper honeycomb, unsigned, 9 1/2 x 4 1/2 in., $161.   Photo: Brimfield Antique Shows & Auctions



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