From Women’s Suffrage to the Great Depression, 12 Wonderfully Weird Valentine’s Day Cards From the Early 20th Century

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The first Valentine’s cards were sent in the 18th century. Initially these were handmade efforts, as pre-made cards were not yet available. Lovers would decorate paper with romantic symbols including flowers and love knots, often including puzzles and lines of poetry. Those who were less inspired could buy volumes that offered guidance on selecting the appropriate words and images to woo their lover. These cards were then slipped secretly under a door, or tied to a door-knocker.

The industrialization of Britain in the early 19th-century brought with it rapid advances in printing and manufacturing technologies. It became easier than ever to mass-produce Valentine’s cards, which soon became immensely popular. It is estimated that by the mid 1820s, some 200,000 Valentines were circulated in London alone. The introduction of the Uniform Penny Post in 1840 bolstered the popularity of Valentine’s cards yet further: reports suggest that by the late 1840s the amount of cards being circulated doubled, doubling once again in the next two decades.

Meanwhile, in the United States, the valentine first appeared in the letterboxes of lovers in 1847. Esther Howard of Massachusetts, whose father ran a stationer’s shop in Worcester, began to import cards from England after receiving one from a friend of her father. Esther’s efforts were a success.

Today, around 190 million Valentine cards are sent every year in the U.S. alone. Few, though, will be as downright confounding and—dare we say—unromantic as this selection of curious vintage Valentines from the early 1900s.

1900 – Suffrage-era, die-cut Valentine card, depicting a small schoolboy bringing his teacher a valentine marked “Yes,” illustrating his support for her right to vote. His bespectacled teacher, wearing a “Votes for Women” sash, sits at a table with a ballot box, and draws a heart from a sack at her feet. Elsewhere on the card, it reads “If you believe—That women should vote— Just let your heart—Your verdict denote.”

1900 – Suffrage-era, die-cut Valentine card, depicting a small girl wearing a “Mother Hubbard” hat and holding a box-sign with the text “Votes For Women, Vote For Me For A Valentine.”

1900 – Suffrage-era, die-cut Valentine card, depicting a small, red-haired girl, wearing a pink dress and large hat with a blue plume, holding a document marked “ballot, ” and standing in the margins of a red bordered heart, with text at the rectangular base reading “I’m a suffragette and I don’t care who knows it”.

Illustration for a die-cut Valentine’s Day card featuring young children in court.

Illustration for a die-cut Valentine’s Day card featuring dressed male and female monkeys in love.

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