This post marks the beginning of a new, exciting series on our blog: “Courtship, Love, & Lust.” This series will explore items in The Filson’s collections concerning all matters of the heart. Check back for future posts on romance, heartache, and the occasional perversion.
Second only to Christmas, Valentines is the largest card sending day of the year. The custom of giving Valentines greetings dates back as far as the Middle Ages, when lovers sang or spoke their messages of affection. It wasn’t until the 1400s when the written Valentine became common. Tradition has it that while imprisoned within the Tower of London after the Battle of Agincourt (1415), Charles, Duke of Orleans wrote romantic rhymed poems and love letters to his wife in France. These messages of love are considered to be progenitors of the modern Valentine. Sixty of the Duke’s valentines remain today as part of the royal papers collection in the British Museum.
By the sixteenth century exchanging Valentines cards became a common occurrence. Traces of this cultural phenomenon can be seen in such places as St. Francis de Sales sermons to his English congregation, where upon fearing for their Christian souls he preached against Valentine cards. In the seventeenth century, lovers made their valentines by hand, writing original love poems or copying from established sources. During the Victorian era, valentines became greatly embellished with real lace, fine paper, gold leaf, satin, and ribbons. By the end of the nineteenth century manufactured valentine cards became available and the sentimentality of earlier, more personal cards decreased. These days a purchased valentine usually accompanies a more elaborate gift such as flowers, chocolate, dinner, jewelry, etc.
The Filson has a lovely collection of Valentine cards, many of which are hand-made.
Enjoy the following selection!