While the origins of Valentine’s Day maybe a little confusing, with several different stories circulating about various men named Valentine being martyred in the early days of Christianity, one thing is for sure, it is now a day when love and romance is celebrated with gifts and tokens being exchanged. One of the most common of these trinkets being cards. So, lets take a look at the history of the Valentine’s Day card and how they became the face of a holiday.
Their Medieval Origins:
The earliest example of a Valentine Day’s card still around is a love letter written by the Duke of Orleans to his wife in during the 14th century while he was a prisoner in the Tower of London. He wrote her a love poem after he was captured in battle. A few years later, Henry V hired the poet John Lydgate to write his wife, Catherine Valois, a Valentine’s message. Both of these letters are on display in The British Library, for all to see.
Rising In Popularity:
For the next few centuries, Valentine’s missives were exchanged primarily among the upper classes. However, starting in the 17th century, it picked up steam with the middle class, wanting to be fashionable. By the 18th century, it was common for people of all social classes to exchange little love tokens and notes to friends and lovers. It is here that we see the real beginnings of what would become the modern celebration of Valentine’s Day.
The Victorian Mass Market Cards:
By the middle of the 19th century, Valentine’s Day was here to stay. With the advances in printing technology and cheap postage made exchanging and sending cards much easier. While many were more like the cards we know today, these early massed produced cards could be elaborate works of art, with little inlays and pockets for hiding small tokens of affection or even engagement rings. By the end of the Victorian era these over the top offerings went out of fashion and were replaced by simpler greeting cards, especially as flowery declarations of love were no longer socially fashionable.
Valentine’s Day Cards In America:
Just like in Britain, Americans began to really start celebrating Valentine’s Day in the 1700’s, mostly sending handwritten letters. However, in the 1840’s a woman named Esther Howland began to sell the first mass produced cards, complete with lace, ribbons, and colourful pictures on them. Today, Howland is known as the “Mother of the Valentine” and set the stage for the cards Americans exchange today. With over 1 billion Valentine’s cards sold each year, it is the second most profitable day for the greeting card industry behind Christmas.