A Variety of Valentines

Newspaper article describing how to construct Valentine’s Day cards from the Marion Daily Mirror, February 4, 1911, Image 15. Via Chronicling America.

Dearest Valentine… Happy Valentine’s Day!

Need some inspiration for your special gift? In addition to browsing the vintage valentines on Ohio Memory’s image collections (the ones in the Marion E. Brucker and Ephemera collections are especially neat!), there are centuries of examples and advice for expressing your affection in the newspaper pages also on Ohio Memory, and in Chronicling America.

Some advice, however, should be taken with a grain of salt. This 1911 issue of the Marion Daily Mirror published a guide entitled “The Way to Make Cupid Favors and Valentines,” also seen above. In the early 20th century, gifts were given to friends and family in addition to (or instead of) romantic partners. More than any amount of money or time spent, the importance of “clever original ideas” was tantamount. This author’s idea of “clever,” however, is somewhat insulting. The humor is in line with the popularity of vinegar valentines, which were insulting parodies of valentine cards that mocked the recipient.

Heart shaped valentine featuring paper doily and adorned with figures, via Ohio Memory.

One cheeky suggestion for “an avowed suffragette of the very militant type” was “a card on which is pasted the cut out picture of a pair of loudly checked trousers.” Such attire was worn by proponents of the women’s suffrage movement on the rise at the time of the article. (Stay tuned for more about the women’s suffrage movement in Ohio, as Ohio Memory commemorates the centennial anniversary of the 19th amendment!) “Cupid hovers at the top of the card,” the article continues, “waving a banner inscribed: To My Valentine. Who Will Wear the Trousers, Dear, You or I?” The tone should probably be read as playfully tongue-in-cheek, rather than insulting, since it was given to a party invitee rather than anonymously to a social enemy. Along that theme, puns, rhymes, and other fun ideas characterize the rest of the valentine card instructions.

Valentine’s Day cards in the early 20th century were often elaborate paper crafts which could either be handmade or purchased outright. Lace, stickers, color-printed images, and short sentiments were common. They could feature any color, not simply the common red or pink of today. The affordability of postage and gifts in general also coincided with an increased popularity in gifting more than cards. In addition to gifts of chocolates, Valentine’s Day was a perfect opportunity for businesses and groups to spin February ads for products from fashionable hosiery (“an ideal gift for the one who can’t eat candy”), aftershave, sewing machines, radios, and missionary donation drives.

In addition to visual advertisements, textual descriptions of social club events and op eds record the valentine trends of Ohio and the United States. One article from 1921 juxtaposes “millionaire” and “sincere” styles of cards, and one 1916 article about the postal service describes the evolution of mailed gifts over the past decades. So, whether you’re celebrating 20 years, 100 years, or just your own curiosity, check out a variety of historical valentines today.


Ohio Memory

Thank you to Jen Cabiya, Project Coordinator for the National Digital Newspaper Program in Ohio, for this week’s post!

Ohio Memory is celebrating 20 years! Visit our blog all year long to learn more about our program, partners and collections.

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