Cards published by Marcus Ward & Co. and illustrated by Kate Greenaway. Via Library of BirminghamWhile legend records that St. Valentine was an early Chrisitan martyr persecuted by the Roman Empire, his association with Valentine’s Day did not happen until author Geoffrey Chaucer, the author of Canterbury Tales, used him as a character in his Parliament of Fowls poem. Today, collectors find many wonderful early Valentine’s Day cards.
The History of Valentine’s Day Cards
The oldest Valentine’s Day card believed to be in existence comes from 1497. It was sent by Charles duke of Orléans while he was being held prisoner to his wife. Unlike the fanciful messages sent today, this handwritten message was a somber yearning for the two to be together again someday. Unfortunately, his wife died before the poem could reach her.
The first cards were sent in Europe during the Victorian era. These cards were often created by hand. Many used natural materials to decorate the cards that could be quite fancy. Most people wrote their own poems during this era which were often very creative. Most were sent by men to a woman that they were interested in dating. A man would usually hand deliver the card.
As time passed, men started having real problems coming up with creative ways to send their messages. Therefore, in 1797, the Young Man’s Valentine Writer was published filled with poems that the young man could print on his card. Following this book’s publication, the trend of sending Valentine’s cards took off with commercial printers.
During the 1820s, European companies started producing special paper for men to use make their valentines. This paper which is highly collectible was designed so that a man could fold it up, seal it with wax and send it through the mail. The postage for these letters was very expensive, so many men still chose to hand deliver their valentines.
In 1840, the British government dropped postage rates drastically; therefore, almost everyone could afford to send a card. The trend was further developed when Marcus Ward and Company showed Valentine’s Day cards in 1851 at the Great Exhibition.
Many of the cards produced by Marcus Ward and Company featured the work of Kate Greenaway. These cards showed children dressed in period costumes. While she worked for the company from 1868 to 1878, only work completed during her last couple of years show her initials SG on the card.
Walter Crane, who is much better known for his edition of Grimm’s’ Fairy Tales, also worked for Marcus Ward and Company. His work usually features young ladies dressed in Victorian clothing surrounded by nature.
The tradition did not hit the United States, however, until 1847 when Elizabeth Howland received a Valentine’s Day card from a business associate of her father’s. She started importing materials from England and making cards by hand.
It was not until the 1880s that Valentine’s Day cards started being mass produced. The earliest ones were postcards. Soon, however, die-cut cards became all the flair. Especially collectible are those by Frances Brundage. Her cards were printed by various printers including Saalfield Publishing, Samuel Gabriel Company and Raphael Tuck & Sons.
When shopping for cards at Prestige Estate Service’s sales, keep in mind the quality of the paper along with its condition. The ink should still be clearly visible. Generally, the more elaborate the card the higher its value.
Prestige Estate Services Sarasota/Tampa
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