52 Weeks of Historical How-To’s, Week 16: Valentine’s Day Cards

Title page from The Sentimental Valentine Writer (s PR8624.R2)

Title page from The Sentimental Valentine Writer (s PR8624.R2)

For those of you who may have forgotten tomorrow is Valentine’s Day!

There is much speculation about the origins of this holiday, whether it has connections with the Roman fertility festival, the Lupercalia, celebrated from the 13th to the 15th of February, or as more commonly agreed began as the liturgical celebration of the early Saint Valentinus.

According to the New Catholic Encyclopaedia there were two martyrs named Valentine, one a priest in Rome and the other a bishop in Terni, both of whom died on the 14th of February.  The most well-known martyrdom story is that of Valentine of Rome who was executed for performing illegal weddings for soldiers forbidden to marry in the reign of Claudius II.  The tradition of sending cards stems from the story that Valentine, before his execution, sent a card to his jailer’s daughter signed “from your Valentine”.

The practice of sending Valentine’s letters or cards has been around since the 15th century.  The oldest surviving Valentine is said to be a poem sent by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1415.  It became a popular tradition to send paper Valentine’s in Great Britain from around the middle of the 18th century.

From the early 19th century handwritten Valentines were gradually replaced with printed Valentine cards.  Popular towards the end of the century were Valentine “penny postcards” which took their name from the Uniform Penny Post, established in 1840.

Gentlemen's poetry from The Sentimental Valentine Writer

Gentlemen’s poetry from The Sentimental Valentine Writer

For those who wished to craft their own Valentine but lacked the required poetical skill they could always consult the ‘Valentine Writer’.  These little chapbooks contained an array of poetical verses for the convenience of Gentlemen and Ladies.  One example is entitled The Sentimental Valentine Writer published in 1850.

Valentine sent to Frank B Simson, East India College, 14 Feb 1847 (ms30353/90)

Valentine sent to Frank B Simson, East India College, 14 Feb 1847 (ms30353/90)

For this week’s historical how-to, I have recreated (or at least attempted to), a 19th century Valentine from one of our manuscript collections.  The Simson family have long connections with Fife, particularly the Brunton and Pitcorthie areas.  In amongst the correspondence there is a very pretty Valentine’s Day card sent to Frank B Simson, from an unknown sender, whilst he was at the East India College in 1847.  Many members of the Simson family were educated in England before setting out for India to work, some for the East India Company.

Reverse of a Valentine sent to Frank B Simson at the East India College (ms30353/90)

Reverse of a Valentine sent to Frank B Simson at the East India College (ms30353/90)

Ladies’ poetry from The Sentimental Valentine Writer

Ladies’ poetry from The Sentimental Valentine Writer

With craft knife at the ready, I attempted to recreate Simson’s Valentine using a poem from the Ladies’ Valentine Writer. Using linen card, watercolour pencils and my limited artistic skill I set about my interpretation of the handmade Valentine.

The Simson Valentine has an insert with the verse printed directly onto silk.  The braver amongst you may wish to have a go at silk printing. I decided to use coloured card insert instead.

My Valentine_2

Recreation of Valentine sent to Frank Simson.

The final result, although not as refined as the Victorian original, was a lot more satisfying than just buying a card. Now I just have to decide who to send this to….

Why don’t you have a go at making your own Valentine’s cards this year!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

From Your Valentine

 

 

 

 

One response to “52 Weeks of Historical How-To’s, Week 16: Valentine’s Day Cards

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