From the Archives: Valentine’s Day Greetings, the Victorian Way

Image of a flower bouquet. From The Filson Historical Society's Manuscript Collection (No Call Number).

Image of a flower bouquet. From The Filson Historical Society's Manuscript Collection (No Call Number).

*This post originally ran on February 10th, 2015


Valentine’s Day (or National Single’s Awareness Day, if you are so inclined) is coming. Starting on December 26, you can’t ignore it. As soon as the Christmas decorations come down, the pink and red go up, the cards and candy come out, and the blatant consumerism rages on.

I admit I’m a bit of a curmudgeon when it comes to Valentine’s Day. While I have had a steady beau (now husband) for nearly a decade, I’m still scarred by experiences from high school. At my school, they called all the girls who got flowers to go to the cafeteria to pick up their bouquets, sometimes more than once. Year after year, I was the girl who never got one, which is pretty embarrassing when you are 16, in the height of your teenage angst, and oftentimes the only girl in class who doesn’t have flowers. It was the one day every year that I was painfully aware of my singleness, and thus, my undesirability.

Even now, I oftentimes wonder where the romance is in today’s version of the holiday. I, with my love for historical fiction, admit that I may have high standards when it comes to Valentine’s Day. When I read books set in the Victorian era, I’m reminded that it was a time where women were placed on a pedestal and protected from the harsher side of life. Romance was often over the top and Valentine’s Day often surpassed Christmas in the amount that was spent.

The holiday as we know it today has its roots firmly planted in the 1800’s. In the early part of the 1800’s, Valentines were often handmade, with special Valentine’s papers beginning to be marketed in the 1820’s. In the 1850’s, it was very fashionable to send Valentine’s greetings to those you loved. By the late 1800’s, Victorian Valentines were often considered works of art.

Eric Willey, a former Filson staff member, came across two scrapbooks in our collection that held some of these works of art. In addition to Victorian-era greeting cards, there are commercial advertisements and artwork. Though they are delicate, it appears that some of the cards were three-dimensional at one point, but were pressed flat in the scrapbooks. Heather Stone and I looked through the scrapbooks and picked out a few of our favorites to display on the blog in honor of this holiday.

Though we only picked a few, there were many that we oo’d and ahh’d over. Some of Heather’s favorites had fringe delicately glued around the edges, a detail that you often don’t see today. Many of the cards and advertisements featured paper cutouts, flowers, animals, and the iconic cherubs.

Seeing these cards inspired me to create my own Valentine's cards this year. Though they aren't as intricate as the ones pictured here, I love how they turned out and found myself enjoying the process. It seems that while the memories of high school still haunt me, I'm not as much as a curmudgeon about Valentine's Day as I used to be.

If you would like to view these scrapbooks or any of our other Valentine's themed collection items, please stop by The Filson! Our research hours are Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Jamie Evans

Jamie Evans is the Marketing and Public Relations Coordinator at The Filson Historical Society. When she isn’t working on publications for The Filson, you can find her behind her sewing machine or out on the roads training for her next big race.

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