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Sweet, sour, and salty: Victorian valentines

Will you soon be headed to buy a Valentine’s day card for a loved one? Picking up packages of cheap cartoon character valentines to be distributed in your kids’ classrooms? These sorts of commercially produced valentines greetings first rose to prominence in the early Victorian period. From cheaply printed verses to fancy embossed and cut paper creations (complete with feathers and sachets), valentines were hugely popular in nineteenth century Britain. Victorians often sent Valentine’s Day greeting to a wide circle of friends and relations, not just to a special someone.

While you might expect that Victorians were fond of sweet and sentimental valentines, you might also be surprised that they sent valentines that we might consider sour, mocking, or downright rude! This valentine from the BYU Library collections, which dates from the 1840s, ridicules both the sickly appearance and general bookishness of the stereotypical Victorian bookkeeper (someone like Bob Cratchit from A Christmas Carol). So-called “comic valentines” like this usually targeted people’s perceived faults and foibles, looks, or social roles.

This and other examples of valentines cards dating from the 1840s through 1880s are on display this month in Special Collections reference area. You can also see an example of the forerunner of the valentine card, the “valentine writer” — published verses which could be copied into a DIY valentine greeting.


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