The Victorian passion for Valentines’ cards

Valentine's card
Valentine's card

So, it was Valentine’s Day last weekend and, unless you’ve been walking around with your eyes shut, you couldn’t help but see that the shops have gone Valentine crazy.

It seems everywhere you turned it was cards, hearts and flowers, and you would be forgiven for thinking traditional customs like Valentine’s Day have been over commercialised.

Allan Blackburn, Owner of GB Antiques Centre and Lancaster Leisure Park

Allan Blackburn, Owner of GB Antiques Centre and Lancaster Leisure Park

However, you might be surprised to know that, in fact, the exchanging of love tokens and cards was even more popular with the Victorians than it is today.

The Valentine card, like the Christmas card, first appeared as a decorated letter and was well known in the 18th century. The card as we know it, in its present form, is very much a product of the 19th century.

These later cards are well worth collecting. Made from paper, outlines were printed, but were hand coloured. They were so popular that finer paper was soon used and ribbon, lace and flowers were included to make beautifully decorative cards. Designs were often elaborate with opening doors, pop-up decorations or ribbons which can be pulled.

The giving and receiving of cards is a Victorian tradition and the Victorian heyday of the Valentine card industry was between 1840 and 1860. A bit later, in the 1880s an amazing 1.5m cards were being posted.

The prettiest Valentine cards were those of the Victorians and many were kept and have been protected within family scrapbooks. For the collector, this is a rewarding area and one which is not at all expensive. The majority of Victorian Valentine cards will cost under £10. The more intricate the design and the better the card’s condition, the more it will be worth.

The manufacturer’s name also has a bearing on cost, because some makers are better known and more collectable than others: Marcus Ward and Co and Thomas Stevens are two such big names in the Victorian love industry.

We are quite competitive in our household and each year Gloria and I try to out-do each other by getting the biggest card we can find.

Generally this results in a draw, so the winner is decided by who has the nicest “verse” inside!