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Since the Middle Ages Valentine's Day cards have sent messages of love, friendship and even criticism


by Diane Larson

In February while we celebrate St. Valentine’s Day, classrooms across America will be filled with children making and decorating containers for their Valentine cards from classmates to be dropped into. Many of us can remember making out endless valentines for our classmates. The teacher sent home a list of student’s names so you dare not forget one. That’s a lot of valentines.


Cards are a key part of the Valentine’s Day and a big seller. According to Statistic Brain 180 million, Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged annually. Eighty-five percent of those are purchased by women, and cards make up fifty-two percent of all gifts given on the day.


“Valentine greetings have been popular since the Middle Ages, a time when prospective lovers said or sang their romantic verses,” says In the 1400s written valentines begin to appear and by the Sixteenth Century, the written Valentine message is commonplace.


Valentine's cards first made an appearance in the eighteenth century in England. These initial valentines were homemade. says that “Lovers would decorate paper with romantic symbols including flowers and love knots.” Once they had designed the card they would put lines of a poem, maybe a puzzle and sign the card. These were then tied to the doorknob of the intended or slipped under the door.


One of the oldest surviving examples is from 1797 and is in the York Castle Museum. The card was sent by “Catherine Mossday to Mr. Brown of London,” says The card was decorated with images of Cupid and flowers and contained this message.

“Since on this ever Happy day,

All Nature’s full of Love and Play

Yet harmless still if my design,

‘Tis but to be your Valentine.”


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Once the industrial revolution hit Britain cards were mass produced and quickly became popular. According to in the mid-1820s some 200,000 Valentines were distributed in London alone. These cards were made quite elaborate with lace, beads, and embroidery. Often they contained lines from poetry like the one above. The more elaborate the more one spent on them.


Victorian valentine collections include some less ‘loved-up’ and often crude messages. According to, these were referred to as “Vinegar Valentines.”  The ‘vinegar valentines’ were created by a New York printer, John McLaughlin. An example from of one titled ‘Miss Nosey.’ The message reads,

“On account of your talk of others’ affairs

At most dances, you sit warming the chairs

Because of the care with which you attend

To all others’ business, you haven’t a friend.”


There are very few surviving examples of these cards.


Valentine’s Day cards finally traveled across the Atlantic in the mid-nineteenth century to America. They grew in popularity in America as quickly as they had done so in England and, according to were initially advertised as a British fashion.


Advanced technologies here in the states meant that cards could be produced more rapidly and could be even more elaborate. Hallmark produced their first Valentine’s Day Cards in 1913 and the commercialization of the holiday was born, says


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