Valentine’s Day – A Brief History & Valentine Cards of Yesteryear

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Circa 1949 – “A Valentine for you Dear”
Circa 1949 – “A Valentine for you Dear” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-S-194X-014)

The holiday has a long and interesting history; however, the origins of Valentine’s Day are somewhat of a mystery. It’s believed to have started as a Roman festival called Lupercalia, celebrated as a fertility festival in mid-February.

Over time, the holiday became associated with Saint Valentine, a Christian martyr executed in the 3rd century. According to legend, Saint Valentine was a priest who performed secret marriages for Roman soldiers, who were forbidden to marry since Emperor Claudius II determined that single men made better soldiers.

The association of Valentine’s Day with romantic love started in the 14th and 15th centuries when poets and writers began to celebrate the holiday in their works.

The History of Valentine’s Day Cards

Valentine’s Day cards have been around for centuries. The oldest known Valentine is said to be a poem sent in the 15th century by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. It wasn’t until the 19th century that Valentine’s Day cards became more widespread, thanks to improvements in printing technology and the advent of the postal service.

Vinegar Valentines

Circa 1840-1940 – Vinegar Valentine - “FLIRT – It’s lots of fun, but all the same, This flirting stuff is a losing game: For, one so fickle as yourself, Is sure to finish on the shelf.”
Circa 1840-1940 – Vinegar Valentine – “FLIRT – It’s lots of fun, but all the same, This flirting stuff is a losing game: For, one so fickle as yourself, Is sure to finish on the shelf.” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-VIN-L -184X-194X-011)

When we think of Valentine’s cards, romantic or sweet cards that express love and affection come to mind. But did you know that in England, during the Victorian era, what’s known as a “Vinegar Valentine” became very popular? A vinegar valentine is a card designed to insult, mock and/or offend the recipient, often targeting their physical appearance, occupation, or personality. They were inexpensive and usually sent anonymously to express dislike or disdain for someone. It didn’t take long for the mean valentines to start appearing in Canada and the USA.

By the early 1920s, these stinging cards had fallen out of favour, and since they were printed on cheap, thin paper and because most recipients discarded them, only a few survived.

The Romantic Holiday Today

Valentine’s Day is celebrated on February 14th in many countries around the world by exchanging cards, flowers, chocolates and gifts between loved ones. After Christmas, Valentine’s Day is the second largest card-sending holiday of the year. Below is a mix of vintage Valentine’s cards dating from the mid-1800s to the 1940s, including romantic, sweet, Toronto-made, strange and some bold Vinegar Valentines.

Valentine’s Day Card Photos

Circa 1940s – “HOT DOG! I never SAUSAGE a swell person as YOU!”
Circa 1940s – “HOT DOG! I never SAUSAGE a swell person as YOU!” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-S-194X-008)
Circa 1940s – “And That’s No BOLONEY! – Gee! You don’t need pickles or mustard to suit my Taste! – I feel there is some sort of a “LINK" between us!”
Circa 1940s – “And That’s No BOLONEY! – Gee! You don’t need pickles or mustard to suit my Taste! – I feel there is some sort of a “LINK” between us!” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-S-194X-008)
Circa 1800s – “Many a word at random spoken, May soothe or wound, a heart that’s broken”
Circa 1800s – “Many a word at random spoken, May soothe or wound, a heart that’s broken” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-s-18XX-027)
Circa 1930s – “I'm Some Slicker – To My Valentine”
Circa 1930s – “I’m Some Slicker – To My Valentine” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-S-193X-036)
Circa 1840-1940 – Vinegar Valentine - “DON’T Make a Street Sweeper of Yourself. It’s Disgusting, And Doesn’t Save the City any Expense.”
Circa 1840-1940 – Vinegar Valentine – “DON’T Make a Street Sweeper of Yourself. It’s Disgusting, And Doesn’t Save the City any Expense.” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-VIN-L -184X-194X-001)
Circa 1900-1910 – “Valentine Greeting”
Circa 1900-1910 – “Valentine Greeting” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-S-190X-191X-034)
Circa 1930s – “My heart’s in shipshape for my VALENTINE”
Circa 1930s – “My heart’s in shipshape for my VALENTINE” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-S-193X-127)
Circa 1930s – “The wilder they are, the better I like em! SO – BE MY VALENTINE!”
Circa 1930s – “The wilder they are, the better I like em! SO – BE MY VALENTINE!” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-S-193X-133)
Circa 1840-1940 – Vinegar Valentine - “HALL OF FAME – THE VILLAGE KNOW ALL - Ears That Miss Nothing In The Line Of Scandal”
Circa 1840-1940 – Vinegar Valentine – “HALL OF FAME – THE VILLAGE KNOW ALL – Ears That Miss Nothing In The Line Of Scandal” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-VIN-L -184X-194X-002)
Circa 1920s – “Your lips say “No” But your eyes say “Yes”
Circa 1920s – “Your lips say “No” But your eyes say “Yes” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-S-192X-027)
Circa 1930s – “You’re the sweetest wee lassie, That ever I knew, So I bought this big love-pop – Especially for you!” Note that this card was meant to hold a sucker made by Toronto-based Brownie Chocolate Products
Circa 1930s – “You’re the sweetest wee lassie, That ever I knew, So I bought this big love-pop – Especially for you!” Note that this card was meant to hold a sucker made by Toronto-based Brownie Chocolate Products (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-S-193X-057)
Circa 1943 – “To My Sweetheart in the Service – A Valentine Message – I miss you, Dear, but still I know, Each hour is Bring victory near, And each day helps to speed the time, When we can be together, Dear!”
Circa 1943 – “To My Sweetheart in the Service – A Valentine Message – I miss you, Dear, but still I know, Each hour is Bring victory near, And each day helps to speed the time, When we can be together, Dear!” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-S-194X-009)
Circa 1840-1940 – Vinegar Valentine - “DIRTY WOMAN – Go get some soap and water, To wash your dirty feet; And clean your face and hands as well, ‘Twill be to us a treat. ‘Twould give us all a great surprise, And you a beau might win; If we could see what shade it was, That Nature made your skin”
Circa 1840-1940 – Vinegar Valentine – “DIRTY WOMAN – Go get some soap and water, To wash your dirty feet; And clean your face and hands as well, ‘Twill be to us a treat. ‘Twould give us all a great surprise, And you a beau might win; If we could see what shade it was, That Nature made your skin” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-VIN-L -184X-194X-003)
Circa 1930s – “I’m a little thin, But it’s also true, I could get real thick, With a lass like YOU MY VALENTINE”
Circa 1930s – “I’m a little thin, But it’s also true, I could get real thick, With a lass like YOU MY VALENTINE” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-S-193X-026)
Circa 1929 – “To my Valentine” - Note this card is mechanical, and the cat’s tail pivots
Circa 1929 – “To my Valentine” – Note this card is mechanical, and the cat’s tail pivots (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-S-192X-046)
Circa 1930s – “I’d like to paint your picture, So happy and so sweet, But being a bashful artist, I send this POP to eat.” Note that this card was meant to hold a sucker made by Toronto-based Brownie Chocolate Products
Circa 1930s – “I’d like to paint your picture, So happy and so sweet, But being a bashful artist, I send this POP to eat.” Note that this card was meant to hold a sucker made by Toronto-based Brownie Chocolate Products (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-S-193X-058)
Circa 1840-1940 – Vinegar Valentine - “DOUBLE FACE”
Circa 1840-1940 – Vinegar Valentine – “DOUBLE FACE” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-VIN-L -184X-194X-004)
Circa 1926 – “I’m training to get you, my Sweetheart.” Note this card is mechanical. The girl’s upper body and the golden ball both pivot
Circa 1926 – “I’m training to get you, my Sweetheart.” Note this card is mechanical. The girl’s upper body and the golden ball both pivot (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-S-192X-051)
Circa 1900-1910– “ I Love You”
Circa 1900-1910– “ I Love You” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-M-190X-191X- 009)
Circa 1930s – “I’m Humpty Dumpty on a wall, Heart and all about to fall, Now if you don’t accept this POP, My life will be an awful flop.” Note that this card was meant to hold a sucker made by Toronto-based Brownie Chocolate Products
Circa 1930s – “I’m Humpty Dumpty on a wall, Heart and all about to fall, Now if you don’t accept this POP, My life will be an awful flop.” Note that this card was meant to hold a sucker made by Toronto-based Brownie Chocolate Products (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-S-193X-059)
Circa 1840-1940 – Vinegar Valentine - “DON’T Get Stuck Up, And Pretend To Be Better Than Your Equals, You Will Only Get Laughed At.”
Circa 1840-1940 – Vinegar Valentine – “DON’T Get Stuck Up, And Pretend To Be Better Than Your Equals, You Will Only Get Laughed At.” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-VIN-L -184X-194X-006)
Circa 1930s – “To my Valentine – If I had plenty of DOUGH, I’D LOAF around you!”
Circa 1930s – “To my Valentine – If I had plenty of DOUGH, I’D LOAF around you!” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-S-193X-050)
Circa 1900-1919 – “Affection’s Offering”
Circa 1900-1919 – “Affection’s Offering” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-S-190X-191X- 003)
Circa 1943 – “A Valentine for YOU in the Service”
Circa 1943 – “A Valentine for YOU in the Service” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-S-194X-010)
Circa 1840-1940 – Vinegar Valentine - “DON’T Go Skating With Other Women's Husbands: You May Get Into A Large Assortment Of Trouble.”
Circa 1840-1940 – Vinegar Valentine – “DON’T Go Skating With Other Women’s Husbands: You May Get Into A Large Assortment Of Trouble.” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-VIN-L -184X-194X-007)
Circa 1930s – “OH - How I long and long and long to be with You on Valentine's Day”
Circa 1930s – “OH – How I long and long and long to be with You on Valentine’s Day” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-S-193X-082)
Circa 1927 – “To My Valentine.” This is a reveal wheel card that contains four hidden messages that are revealed as the wheel is spun. Showing is the "make me happy" message
Circa 1927 – “To My Valentine.” This is a reveal wheel card that contains four hidden messages that are revealed as the wheel is spun. Showing is the “make me happy” message (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-S-192X-042)
Circa 1940s – “A Valentine Message - To My Sweetheart in the Army – You Know you mean the world to me, And that I love you, too, And so this message doesn’t say, A single thing that’s new, But every word of it’s sincere, And, though we are apart, You know that always you will hold, First place within my heart.”
Circa 1940s – “A Valentine Message – To My Sweetheart in the Army – You Know you mean the world to me, And that I love you, too, And so this message doesn’t say, A single thing that’s new, But every word of it’s sincere, And, though we are apart, You know that always you will hold, First place within my heart.” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-S-194X-012)
Circa 1840-1940 – Vinegar Valentine - “DOCTOR - You often read a symptom wrong, And never keep a patient long; But after all-you do your best;- The undertaker does the rest.
Circa 1840-1940 – Vinegar Valentine – “DOCTOR – You often read a symptom wrong, And never keep a patient long; But after all-you do your best;- The undertaker does the rest. ” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-VIN-L -184X-194X-009)
Circa 1900-1919 – “I LOVE YOU - On land or sea, Thru bright or stormy weather – Just you and me, Lets roam this world together.” Note this card is mechanical, and the heart the sailor is holding moves up and down (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-S-190X-191X- 011)
Circa 1900-1919 – “I LOVE YOU – On land or sea, Thru bright or stormy weather – Just you and me, Lets roam this world together.” Note this card is mechanical, and the heart the sailor is holding moves up and down (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-S-190X-191X- 011)
Circa 1920s – “To Mother Dear.  My First Valentine”
Circa 1920s – “To Mother Dear. My First Valentine” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-S-192X-014)
Circa 1949 – “A Valentine for you Dear.” The heart is made of padded satin
Circa 1949 – “A Valentine for you Dear.” The heart is made of padded satin (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-S-194X-014)
Circa 1840-1940 – Vinegar Valentine - “DRUGGIST – You haven’t the brains and you haven’t the knowledge, Which anyone gains at the Pharmacy College, So- never take chances at mixing the dope, Or you’ll close your career at the end of a rope.”
Circa 1840-1940 – Vinegar Valentine – “DRUGGIST – You haven’t the brains and you haven’t the knowledge, Which anyone gains at the Pharmacy College, So- never take chances at mixing the dope, Or you’ll close your career at the end of a rope.” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-VIN-L -184X-194X-010)
Circa 1925 – “Sweet memories are the Golden clasps, That bind the bonds of friendship.”
Circa 1925 – “Sweet memories are the Golden clasps, That bind the bonds of friendship.” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-S-192X-001)
Circa 1920s – “To My Valentine”
Circa 1920s – “To My Valentine” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-S-192X-005)
Circa 1840-1940 – Vinegar Valentine - “FLIRT – It’s lots of fun, but all the same, This flirting stuff is a losing game: For, one so fickle as yourself, Is sure to finish on the shelf.”
Circa 1840-1940 – Vinegar Valentine – “FLIRT – It’s lots of fun, but all the same, This flirting stuff is a losing game: For, one so fickle as yourself, Is sure to finish on the shelf.” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-VIN-L -184X-194X-011)
Circa 1920s – “To My Valentine – Songs Of Love”
Circa 1920s – “To My Valentine – Songs Of Love” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-S-192X-006)
Circa 1920s – “With Fond Love”
Circa 1920s – “With Fond Love” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-S-192X-003)
Circa 1840-1940 – Vinegar Valentine - “PROHIBITIONIST – I know you’ve quite a treasure, a much respected man, Who’d mould us all to measure to your narrow-minded plan. You put down drink in public, as each reformer should, And you put it down in private from bottle or from wood.”
Circa 1840-1940 – Vinegar Valentine – “PROHIBITIONIST – I know you’ve quite a treasure, a much respected man, Who’d mould us all to measure to your narrow-minded plan. You put down drink in public, as each reformer should, And you put it down in private from bottle or from wood.” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-VIN-L -184X-194X-012)
Circa 1930s – “My love is like a candle bright, Twill ever burning be, And may you ever bear in mind, A true heart waits for thee!”
Circa 1930s – “My love is like a candle bright, Twill ever burning be, And may you ever bear in mind, A true heart waits for thee!” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-M-193X-001)
Circa 1906 – Valentine's Day
Circa 1906 – Valentine’s Day (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-S-190X-191X- 035)
Circa 1840-1940 – Vinegar Valentine - “SPEEDER – You seem to think it’s very clever, To break the speed laws with your flivver, But other people take the view, That hanging is too good for you.”
Circa 1840-1940 – Vinegar Valentine – “SPEEDER – You seem to think it’s very clever, To break the speed laws with your flivver, But other people take the view, That hanging is too good for you.” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-VIN-L -184X-194X-013)
Circa 1940s – “If you want to be My Valentine - You've Got To Have GUTS!”
Circa 1940s – “If you want to be My Valentine – You’ve Got To Have GUTS!” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-M-193X-002)
Circa 1900-1919 – “Happy Days To My Valentine”
Circa 1900-1919 – “Happy Days To My Valentine” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-S-190X-191X- 030)
Circa 1840-1940 – Vinegar Valentine - “BOOTLEGGER – I see you're selling “Heather Dew”, And making lots of wealth: If I were a Judge I’d sentence you To drink the stuff yourself.”
Circa 1840-1940 – Vinegar Valentine – “BOOTLEGGER – I see you’re selling “Heather Dew”, And making lots of wealth: If I were a Judge I’d sentence you To drink the stuff yourself.” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-VIN-L -184X-194X-014)
Circa 1903 – “RESOLVED! – That you have just simply got to be my Valentine”
Circa 1903 – “RESOLVED! – That you have just simply got to be my Valentine” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-L-190X-191X-002)
Circa 1906 – “To greet My Love”
Circa 1906 – “To greet My Love” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-S-190X-191X- 026)
Circa 1840-1940 – Vinegar Valentine - "LEARN HOW TO WAIT ON PEOPLE – To serve things right you are not able; You spill the food upon the table; And what you touch I hate to eat, Because you're neither clean nor neat. Next time you drop grease on my clothes, I'll hit you squarely on the nose."
Circa 1840-1940 – Vinegar Valentine – “LEARN HOW TO WAIT ON PEOPLE – To serve things right you are not able; You spill the food upon the table; And what you touch I hate to eat, Because you’re neither clean nor neat. Next time you drop grease on my clothes, I’ll hit you squarely on the nose.” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-VIN-L -184X-194X-015)
Circa 1920s – “One of these Fairies has a Valentine for you”
Circa 1920s – “One of these Fairies has a Valentine for you” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-M-192X-008)
Circa 1906 – “With fondest Love”
Circa 1906 – “With fondest Love” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-S-190X-191X- 013)
Circa 1949 – “A Valentine for My Wife – The Queen of my Heart”
Circa 1949 – “A Valentine for My Wife – The Queen of my Heart” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-S-194X-015)
Circa 1840-1940 – Vinegar Valentine - " HALL OF FAME – LOAD MOUTH VIXEN – To Hear Her Speak Calls Fairy Music To The Mind."
Circa 1840-1940 – Vinegar Valentine – ” HALL OF FAME – LOAD MOUTH VIXEN – To Hear Her Speak Calls Fairy Music To The Mind.” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-VIN-L -184X-194X-016)
Circa 1800s – “A Valentine I send”
Circa 1800s – “A Valentine I send” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-S-18XX-024)
Circa 1900-1919 – “Valentine Greeting”
Circa 1900-1919 – “Valentine Greeting” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-S-190X-191X- 004)
Circa 1840-1940 – Vinegar Valentine - "CHEAP"
Circa 1840-1940 – Vinegar Valentine – “CHEAP” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-VIN-L -184X-194X-008)
Circa 1800s – “Affection's Greeting”
Circa 1800s – “Affection’s Greeting” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-S-18XX-026)
Circa 1896 – “Trust to me”
Circa 1896 – “Trust to me” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-S-18XX-037)
Circa 1840-1940 – Vinegar Valentine - "CRANKY – RUBBER NECK"
Circa 1840-1940 – Vinegar Valentine – “CRANKY – RUBBER NECK” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-VIN-L -184X-194X-005)
Circa 1800s – “Think of me”
Circa 1800s – “Think of me” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-S-18XX-035)
Circa 1940s – An envelope that contains Valentine cut-outs by Veribest Specialty Toronto - Ontario, priced at 10¢
Circa 1940s – An envelope that contains Valentine cut-outs by Veribest Specialty Toronto – Ontario, priced at 10¢ (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-S-194X-003)
Circa 1940s – “A Valentine just for you”
Circa 1940s – “A Valentine just for you” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-S-194X-003)
Circa 1940s – “Hare is my heart!”
Circa 1940s – “Hare is my heart!” (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-S-194X-003)
Circa 1940s – “Wool you be my Valentine
Circa 1940s – “Wool you be my Valentine (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-S-194X-003)
Circa 1940s – “When I look at you I get all ruffled up
Circa 1940s – “When I look at you I get all ruffled up (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-S-194X-003)
Circa 1940s – “Come along Valentine
Circa 1940s – “Come along Valentine (Toronto Public Library SAR-GC-VAL-S-194X-003)
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