A short history of Valentine’s Day greeting cards

Ephemeral stationery remains a lasting tradition

Each year February 14th marks the day that Saint Valentine, a third century Roman priest, was martyred in the year 273.

His death fell concurrent to the Roman pagan festival of Lupercalia and the early Christian church capitalized on the popularity of this holiday by associating their own Saint Valentine with it. Ever since the high Middle Ages February 14th has been the day that commemorates the saint of courtly love. The tradition of sending messages of affection on Valentine’s Day began later, in the late 1700s, during the Georgian period. These messages of affection became known as “valentines” and the earliest were made from paper, signed and sealed with wax, and delivered by the sender. Handmade valentines often displayed the sender’s craft, including poetry, embossing, pinprick work, cameo cutouts, and hand coloring. Handmade valentines required time and devotion, conveying the personal sentiment of the sender to the one receiving it.

The world’s first printed Valentine’s Day card from the Victorian period

The Industrial Revolution and the introduction of the Penny Post in Britain changed the custom of sending valentines two-fold. First, new printing machines of the period signalled the dawn of the greeting card industry. Many early paper valentines of yesteryear are preserved in the form of scrapbooks, a popular pastime for ladies during the Edwardian and Victorian period. Secondly, this allowed the sending of Valentine’s Day cards to become a social custom enjoyed by the masses, similar to Christmas greeting cards. Today, 145 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged annually, becoming the second most popular seasonal greeting card after Christmas.

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