February 14 is the day when thousands of people around the world will receive sentimental or humorous greetings cards from sweethearts, friends, or family members. I thought it might be fun to take a step back in time and examine the history of this unique giving-of-cards tradition.
But first the story of St. Valentine himself -
It is believed there was a man named Valentine, a Roman martyr, who refused to give up his belief in Christianity. He was, therefore, imprisoned and put to death on February 14 269 AD. He left behind a farewell note to his jailer’s daughter who had befriended him and brought him food while in jail and signed his note “From Your Valentine.” This might well have been the very first Valentine Day card.
The giving of a Valentine also comes from the Middle Ages when lovers sang or recited their valentine verses to a beloved, and the oldest Valentine message still in existence was made in the 1400's. Today it is on display at the British Museum.
Early Valentines in Europe were made of colored paper and were very popular in England where wooing one’s beloved with a valentine message was especially favored. Cards then were mostly hand-made and came in various types and designs.
There were, for instance, Acrostic Valentines where the first lines spelled out the loved one’s name. There were also Cutout Valentines which were made by folding the paper many times and then cutting out a lace-like design with small, pointed scissors.
An unusual design originating in the Orient was called the Theorem or Poonah Valentine. These were painted through a stencil cut out in oil paper. And a Rebus Valentine had verses inside where small pictures took the place of some of the words. Pinprick Valentines were made, as the name implies, by pricking small holes in paper with a pin or needle, creating the impression of lace.
Fraktur Valentines were popular in the Middle Ages because they were composed of ornamental lettering which was in the same style as the illuminated manuscripts of those times. And one's beloved always enjoyed receiving a Puzzle Purse Valentine, a folded puzzle which could be read and then refolded. Each fold contained a verse and the verses had to be read in a certain order.
By the early 1800s, Valentines were being made in factories, and much of the charm of the hand-made Valentine had disappeared. The earliest manufactured Valentines were made on black paper with white pictures painted on them by the factory workers. The more fancy Valentine cards were made with real lace and ribbons with paper lace being introduced about the mid-1800s. By the end of the 19th century, Valentines were being produced entirely by machinery.
Soon after the beginning of the 20th century a card company named Norcross began to manufacture the Valentine card. Then Hallmark got in on the act. The rest, as they say, is history.
Crown Center in Kansas City is today the international headquarters of Hallmark Cards Inc, the vision of Joyce C. and Donald J. Hall. The building of Crown Center reversed years of decay in that area which was just blocks away from Kansas City’s commercial district. The Halls managed to halt the decay and revitalize the inner city.
Since 1968, about half of the original 85 acres have been developed and today the Crown Center complex houses hotels, meeting rooms, restaurants, theaters, and of course the headquarters of Hallmark Cards Inc. The creation of an international institution based on caring gives rise to the Hallmark philosophy of “when you care enough.....”
Each year, Hallmark displays collections of rare and antique Valentine cards at their card shops across North America, and many museums and libraries also offer antique valentine exhibitions around St. Valentine’s Day.
Love makes the world go round, and as long as that is true, the Valentine Card will forever flourish.
Do you still send Valentine cards? Let me know in a comment below.