Spirited or Playful, That Valentine’s Card Has a History

New York — It was Valentine’s Day 1917 in the Minnesota farming village of Lewiston, and Fred Roth — a fourth grader — seems to have come up with a way to express his love for his girlfriend, Louise Wirt. He gave her a card.

The folding, pop-up Valentine’s Day card, so heavy on stock that it remains in good condition 106 years later, reads: “Don’t forget me! / I ask you / Reserve a place / In your heart for me “

And so he did. Years later they married, and Lewis displayed the cherished card, tucked away in the fretwork of a bedroom dresser, for decades to come. She passed it on to her daughter, and later a granddaughter, me, and it remained by her bedside until her death at age 91, a symbol of enduring love.

Although the message was in English, the card is printed with the word “Germany” and appears to have been imported, as were many cards from that era. Smaller companies in America were also part of the booming commercial card business.

Hallmark, which began offering Valentine’s Day cards in 1913, estimates that today, 145 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged annually, not including the children’s valentines that are popular for classroom exchanges.

Fertility-related customs have been celebrated since pagan times in mid-February, says Amelie Gewalt, curator of folk art and curatorial chair for collections at the Museum of American Folk Art in New York City.

Symbols of affection varied: In the 1600s, it was customary to give pairs of gloves in mid-February, she says.

“By the 18th century, we start to see something that really resembles the modern Valentine card,” she says. “In the 19th century, it progressed to the point where popular women’s magazines such as Harper’s Weekly published instructions for readers on how to dress them.”

There have long been both sincere, heartfelt Valentines and more teasing, playful Valentines like Grandpa Fred.

The museum’s collection includes many lovingly crafted tokens of affection from various periods. “You pretty much see the nature of the heart,” says Gewalt.

Although not specifically associated with Valentine’s Day, an exhibit opening March 17 at the museum, “Material Witness: Folk and Self-Taught Artists at Work,” features two examples of “Fraktur” created by German immigrants in Pennsylvania. , Which are exquisitely decorated watercolors. One is called “Inverted Heart” and the other depicts a labyrinth.

“They were really dazzling objects, incorporating motifs of flowers or hearts. The playfulness and cuteness of these objects is one of their most interesting aspects,” says Gewalt.

In the mid-19th century, some people shared “vinegar valentines”, a type of anti-valentine with humorously derogatory verses, not unlike modern-day roasts.

Sometimes, the cards include writing in a circle or upside down like a puzzle. Some had a decorative folded border or verses on the fold; lace like cutwork; Or a watercolor decoration of pierced hearts, lovebirds and flowers. Lover’s knots and labyrinths were also common elements.

“They remind me of games, like plucking flower petals ‘she loves me, she doesn’t love me,'” says Gewalt.

The boom in commercial Valentine’s Day cards in the mid-1800s was a reflection of changing courtship patterns, says Elizabeth White Nelson, associate professor of history at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

“The idea of ​​companionate marriage and love became a part of the calculation of marriage, and Valentine’s Day cards became a part of courtship,” she says.

These days, cards continue to evolve.

“Over the past few years, trends have been less about romantic love, but more about letting someone know they matter,” says Jen Walker, vice president of trends and creative studios at Hallmark Cards, Inc.

“There are more inclusive scenes, and a greater representation of relationships—love, chosen family, friendship, parents and children, self-care,” she says.

There’s a bit of mystery surrounding my Grandma Louise’s precious valentine. It would have been out of character for Fred to buy a business card, as opposed to, say, presenting her with a bouquet of pussy willows that she had chosen.

“That period was the beginning of an organized practice of exchanging Valentines at school,” says Nelson. In some classes, everyone was required or at least encouraged to give a Valentine.

“The giving and receiving of Valentines was always partly about loving,” says Nelson, “and once a Valentine’s Day card was saved, it became a talisman of the love that was being given.” It is believed.”


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