Browne Popular Culture Library

Vintage Valentines celebrate the sweet & sour sides of the holiday

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News Most of the origin stories about Valentine’s Day are not true. There really is no link to any one of the five Valentines who share Feb. 14 as their saint days. And the connection to the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia seems tenuous at best. That celebration involved sacrificing dogs and goats, and whipping young women and crops with whips made of the goat’ hides to ensure fertility in the coming year. The more modern belief that Valentine’s Day is a “Hallmark holiday,” cooked up by the card company to boost sales is also not true – people were exchanging Valentine’s Day greetings for more than a century before the company was founded in 1910. “Most of what we know is probably wrong,” said Steve Ammidown, manuscripts and outreach archivist for the Browne Popular Culture Library at Bowling Green State University. Ammidown visited the Wood County District Public Library to share a selection of vintage Valentine’s Day cards. The first reference to St. Valentine’s Day being associated with lovers comes in Geoffrey Chaucer’s 14th century poem “Parlement of Foules (The Parliament of Fowls).” By the 16th century the tradition of exchanging romantic notes on Valentine’s Day took hold, especially in England and Germany. Exchanging cards began early in the Victorian Era. True to the times, Ammidown said, “complicated and fragile” was the way to go. It was a female entrepreneur, Esther Howland, who founded the first Valentine card manufacturer in America in the 1840s. The Worcester, Massachusetts, businesswoman had a staff to create her line of cards, which “were very ornate, very overwrought.” Ammidown showed a Howland card from the archive’s collection with its intricate patterns and fine, lace-like cut paper. It was meant to display, and its excellent condition indicates it was treasured. The Valentine card business proved attractive enough that competitors sprang up. The most prominent, George Whitney, eventually purchased Howland’s business. “He became the biggest name in Valentine’s cards,” Ammidown said. The business flourished at the turn of the 20th century as the post office became more reliable and postcards became more popular, the archivist said. Though they may have flowery, sentimental sayings on them, sometimes what was written on the back was more pedestrian. The inscription on the front of one declared: “My heart’s a posy blooming for you.” On the back is written: “Your boss said you have to…