February 7, 2011
Valentine’s Day greetings were just as popular with the Victorians as they are today. In 1865, the British postmaster general reported that 542,000 valentines were mailed annually within London and more than double that amount sent from London to the countryside. No wonder that in 1870, one newspaper noted that “[St. Valentine] is the terror and annoyance of postmen, as well as of men of business, whose letters are seriously delayed about the middle of February”!
The library’s Victorian Literature Collection contains an assortment of valentine greetings from the 19th century. They provide an interesting peek at the types of cards available to Victorians from different decades and different economic classes: cheaply-produced woodcut valentines from the 1840’s; expensive, intricate three-dimensional cards from the 1860’s, and modern-looking illustrated greeting cards from the 1870’s and 1880’s.
Victorians produced an array of romantic or sentimental valentines, not unlike the sorts of greetings available today. More shocking to modern sensibilities are the Victorians’ “comic valentines,” which were not so much funny as they were rude or insulting. Comic valentines were especially popular in the early Victorian period and tended to be marketed and sold to the lower classes. Comic valentines would usually be sent anonymously. The recipient could be teased or insulted for their age, appearance, trade, hobbies, and other traits. Old maids were particular targets. The comic valentines pictured here date from about 1840.