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February 1996

Valentine Post Card

Postcard: To My Valentine
Date: ca. 1910    ID: 61.198.35

The custom of sending messages of affection on February 14 dates back to Roman times, when Mid-February was a time to meet and court perspective mates. The earliest American valentines were labors of love, made by the sender. The homemade sentiment had a more serious meaning than commercially produced valentines.

The spread of commercially produced valentines in the second half of the nineteenth century made sending and receiving valentines a more lighthearted activity. At the same time, postcard collecting became a popular hobby in Europe, finally reaching America in the first decade of the twentieth century. It was the combination of these two fads that made the enterprising postcard manufacturer create the valentine postcard.

This postcard was probably sent between 1908 and 1917, the era of the postcard collecting craze. It is not known where this card was produced, however many of the valentine postcards were printed in Germany, the world center for high-quality chromolithography, until the outbreak of World War I in 1914 cut German printers off from the American distributors.

Children, a common subject in the early twentieth century, appeared with great regularity on valentine postcards - shyly kissing, winsomely dressed in foreign costume, delivering flowers or playing with cupids, indicating the use of valentine postcards as tokens of friendship as well as expressions of love. Most common were childlike cupids busily mailing or delivering valentines, bandaging broken hearts, shooting cannons of hearts or weighing hearts.

Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village holds an extensive collection of greeting postcards. Until postcards were eclipsed by the revival of greeting cards in the 1920s, Americans sent beautifully decorated postcards to commemorate birthdays and anniversaries, as well as Easter, the Fourth of July, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and, of course, Valentine's Day. Please contact the Research Center for more information.


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