humorpop culture
The History of Valentine Cards: How Do I Love Thee?
by Marjorie Dorfman

page 2

A Mount Holyoke College student named Esther Howland crafted the first American valentines around 1830. Her father was a stationer in Worcester, Massachusetts, who imported valentine cards every year from England. Esther, who became known as "the Mother of The Valentine", began her own "Worcester" collection, and imported lace, fine papers and other supplies on her own. Her creations were the first paper valentines, made with real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures known as "scrap." She employed several assistants and her own brothers helped her market these creations. She became the very first successful American "career woman," and her sales soared to about $100,000 annually, which is not bad by 1830s’ standards. She later sold her thriving business to the George C. Whitney Company.

kitten valentine The 1840s introduced the first mechanical valentines. By pulling a tab, a figure or object on the card could be made to move. Three-dimensional pop-outs were available at this time as well, although they were not as common. In the 1870s, American cartoonist, Charles Howard, made comic valentines known as penny dreadfuls. His designs, which made fun of teachers and old maids, were executed on cheap paper and in crude colors. If one may ask what’s in a name, in this case the answer is clear, as the valentines sold for a penny a piece and the designs were indeed dreadful. During the 1890s valentines became overly ornamental, adorned with garish spun glass, mother-of-pearl, imitation jewels and silky fringe (and perhaps even other unwanted Victorians).

pet valentine In the early 1900s a card company named Norcross began to manufacture valentines. In 1910, Joyce C. Hall, a poor but energetic teenager from Norfolk, Nebraska, arrived in Kansas City with his inventory of a few dozen postcards. Determined to make a name for himself in the business world, his first office was in the local YMCA. By 1915, Hall Brothers (Hallmark) were manufacturing their own cards on their own presses. In 1923, J.C. and his brothers, Bill and Rollie Hall, along with their 120 employees, moved to four separate buildings in a brand new six story plant, and today their customers can still claim that they "care enough to send the very best."

The heavy sentimentality of yesteryear has been replaced with a much lighter touch. More often, a valentine card accompanies a gift as well. Today, valentine cards are manufactured on an enormous scale that covers all types of feelings about love: sentimental, sophisticated, humorous, ridiculous and sublime, just to mention a few. Even dogs and cats can receive valentines, (although to date, they are still unable to stamp them and put them in the mail). In terms of the number of cards sent annually, Valentine’s day ranks second only to Christmas.

So, don’t hesitate, my friends, to demonstrate your love and affection with the nicest card you can find on this holiday designed for lovers everywhere. Just remember that Eros is very sensitive, and doesn’t like it when he is excluded from the picture. Remember to buy a card that includes Cupid doing what he does best in whatever pictorial design you choose. Otherwise, you might end up with an arrow somewhere other than your heart.

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

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humor pop culture
Culture is one thing and varnish another
R.W. Emerson, Journals, 1868


In the room, the women come and go, talking of Michelangelo
T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock


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