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All You Need Is Paper: Why Antique Valentines Still Melt Modern Hearts

Valentines were romantic greetings long before Hallmark got involved. St. Valentines Day sentiments of love have been exchanged for centuries, in letters, poems, and artwork.  Nancy Rosin, president of the National Valentine Collectors Association, gives us a rundown on the history of Valentines. The cards sweethearts sent to each other in the early to mid-1800s were the peak in hearts and flowers, so to speak. The intricate and labor-intensive Valentines of the time represented a labor of love, whether they were made by the person who gave them or not.

“Esther Howland was the ‘Mother of the American Valentine,’” Rosin says. “American Valentines had existed before, but she made them more readily available. Her initial Valentines were small and usually marked with an ‘H’ and a number indicating the price or ‘N.E.V.Co.’ for her company, New England Valentine Company. But there are a lot of larger ones that were not signed that we now attribute to her. In 1850, she was the only person in Massachusetts who had access to these elegant European embellishments, and her Valentines had multiple layers of beautiful lace papers. You would lift one layer and then another and another. The message would usually be deep inside because she didn’t like to have you ‘wear your heart on your sleeve.’”

Rosin and fellow Valentine collectors believe Howland didn’t sign her largest pieces because they were embarrassingly lavish and expensive. “There is a story going around that she made such an elaborate Valentine in the shape of a May basket, and it might have sold for $50, which was the price of a horse and buggy at that time,” Rosin says. “We are told that the man was rejected because the woman said she would never marry anyone who would waste his money like that. So we’ve come to the conclusion that she probably avoided putting her name on the back of her fanciest Valentines."

Read about the evolution of the Valentine at Collectors Weekly. And don’t miss the gallery of beautiful antique Valentines.  

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