Monday, February 1, 2010

Valentine, Won't You Be Mine?

Valentines Day is just around the corner. Since Saint Valentine became known as the patron saint of lovers and the day became a special opportunity for exchanging love messages, lovers have shared symbols of their love or words of endearment on February 14th. I thought it would be fun to share some of my own collection of vintage Valentines, along with some trivia about the holiday over the course of the next two weeks.

Love tokens have been exchanged far longer throughout history than merely one day of the year! Certainly as long as there has been courtship, there have been special tokens exchanged to woo and share depth of feeling. One early symbol of love in the eighteenth century was the gift of gloves. They became such a popular love token during that time, that a heavy tax was imposed on gloves. A little poem might have been offered with the gift of a pair of gloves to a lady of that day: "If that from glove you take the letter 'G', Then glove is LOVE, and that I give to thee."

Flowers have been a love token over time -- but they also came to symbolize sentiment spoken secretly with the type of flower in an arrangement. It was necessary to know what each flower spoke in order to convey the right message. Tiny volumes of poetry complete with dictionaries sharing each floral meaning were written and kept at hand to enable one to share those secret messages. One such volume is a tiny treasure in my collection. It measures just 4-1/2" x 3" -- perfect for carrying in a gent's pocket or a lady's reticule. This special little gilt edged volume was published in 1846. It's title:  "The Bouquet: Containing the Poetry and Language of Flowers" by A Lady.

In it's introduction quotes a poem by L.A. Twamley, part of which I will share here to give a sample:
"Are not flowers the earliest gift of love?
Do they not, mutely eloquent, oft speak
For absent or for trembling hearts, and bear
Kisses and sighs on their perfumed lips,
And worlds of thoughts and fancies in their tears,
Touched by the rainbow's dyes?"

The author of the first written Valentine is disputed. Charles, Duc d'Orleans has often been credited with being one of its first creators. He sent his wife love letters penned in rhyme. John Lydgate, an early English poet also wrote a lovely Valentine praising Catherine, the wife of King Henry V of England. Whoever started the tradition matters little. By the early nineteenth century, the Valentine card was clearly the most popular love token eagerly bestowed and awaited. I have several early Valentines handed down in my family to me. This little treasure is one of the folded cards that could be sent flat and then opened to reveal a pop-up of fuller dimension. It's sweet sentiment says,

"Cupid has no time to waste
So he flies in urgent haste
What he means to whisper low
Is, 'Sweetheart I love you so.'"
When the greeting is opened, you discover a more fanciful set of die cut figures, along with a fancy tissue paper flower.

This little one, from the late 1800s is more simple in its folded state -- actually very little ornamentation on the card stock itself. But, when it is opened, it really has some fun secrets to share! The little pop-up heart says,
"Never! Oh Never!
Another can be;
So gentle, so kind
And so smiling as thee!"
Although another relative has the original, one of my favorite early Valentines was done in "cobweb" style. It dates to the 1820s, and has a secret message that can only be revealed when a tiny thread loop is pulled to enable the cut work picture on top to open and show what is beneath. I spent some time this year making several of these to include in one of my shops on Etsy. Here are two of them.

Come back and visit again this week. I will share more of my vintage Valentines and some of their unique and fun sentiments with you. I have lots -- so we will take a look at more from the 19th and 20th century along with other historical tidbits on love. Oh, and if you like the Valentines, I have a little contest going on my other blog you won't want to miss out on! You can win one!              

1 comment:

Amy Brecount White said...

Hey, Judi! You might be interested in checking out my YA novel FORGET-HER-NOTS that's coming out 3/2 from Harper/Collins. It brings the language of flowers to life magically! And it has lots of Victorian and historic elements. You can find me at Be sure to check out my cover; it's lovely.

Have a great day!

Amy (Brecount White)


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