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Valentine’s cards from yesteryear

Delicate artwork expressed true love

February 6, 2011
By KIM LOCCISANO Times Leader Staff Writer

Should you still find yourself in the market for the perfect valentine card, a look back at a few offerings from yesteryear just might provide romantic inspiration enough to move you out the door and in the direction of a favorite antique shop in hopes of procuring just such a treasure as a truly unique gift for your heart's desire.

If you have not yet had the pleasure of frequenting some of this area's finer antique shops, a few minutes spent in conversation with friends and neighbors should provide information enough to yield details of basic directions to several such shops in the region.

In fact, the possibility of sharing a Valentine's Day in search of the perfect vintage or antique Valentine card seems the path to follow if you happen to be on a quest in search of true love, in celebration of it, or even in pursuit of something not too far from a card designed to share just a bit of the good old fashioned fun that can come with such personal gifts as those sentimentality shared on and around Feb. 14.

Article Photos

T-L Photo/KIM LOCCISANO
Nancy Moore, of the Belmont County historical society and curator of the Belmont County Victorian Mansion Museum in Barnesville shared a glimpse into the highly detailed and extremely delicate design of finer quality Valentine's Day cards shared in eras now long past.

The sharing of sentiments at Valentine's Day is hardly an invention of today's massive greeting card industry, though the observance is said rivaled only to the volume seen each Mother's Day or Christmas; when comparing the total number of postal items processed for each of these celebrations.

The beauty of a vintage or antique Valentine's Day card is often better described as more a delicate work of original art than a greeting card, a sentiment two local museum curators agree with wholeheartedly.

Belmont County Victorian Mansion Museum's Nancy Moore and Oglebay Institute's Mansion Museum's Megan Clark, each recently ventured into their respective collections for examples of Valentine's Day cards shared in what are often thought to have been simpler times.

Today's traditions surrounding Valentine's Day card sharing etiquette and practices has evolved as a part of our nation's fabric since initially surfacing in the 1800s.

According to one source, About.com, the popularity of sending manufactured Valentine's Day cards had so strongly caught on across the American public in that era the New York Times decided to take a stand offering heavy criticism of the practice.

"The custom with us has no useful feature, and the sooner it is abolished the better," stated one of the famed newspaper's editorials on the subject.

It was not long until the practice really proved it had become ingrained in communities all across the nation. Nowhere was the surge in this popularity quite so evident as in the City of New York.

Historical records of that post office revealed as the nation began to heal from the devastation wrought by the Civil War it appeared the spirit of romance once again began to be seen, as proof, the number of valentines dealt with by the New York department climbed to 86,000 in 1866 from a total of just under 16,000 in 1864.

The commercially available Valentine's Day card was here to stay.

Antiques collectables experts Ralph and Terry Kovel, can help give potential collectors a few pre-shopping pointers via their website at Kovels.com.

Among the tips they have to share that just might help a lucky treasure hunter in search of a prized antique or vintage Valentine just waiting to be shared a second time - whether for love or for money: look closely at the contents of caches of old family papers, in long forgotten collections of stationary, and even among a household collection of unused envelopes, never pass up looking through mixed bags of odds and ends at garage sales and similar events.

Details to keep in mind during such adventures as going in search of unexpectedly rare or unusual antique or vintage and highly collectable valentine cards can make the difference between a good investment and simply a beautiful, though not valuable, card.

Valentine cards made and sold from the 1930s into the mid-century that were obviously insulting are one of the few styles most people want to stay away from when trying to make good purchasing decisions.

They are sometimes referred to as "penny dreadful."

Should your antique Valentine's Day card shopping adventure connect you with any creations credited to Esther Howland, this country's first recognized mass producer of these unique works of art in a greeting card format, consider giving it a second look. The Kovels and other experts agree they are nearly impossible to find but just might have some real value to what can sometimes be a steep pricepoint.

Valentine's made in a three dimensional design are of particular interest and of potentially greater value to a collector, according to the Kovels, and to Clark of Oglebay Institute's Mansion Museum. Experts also suggest looking for valentines with movable parts, though it is important to know ahead of time that should repairs be required to return a card to collection worthy condition can be an expensive venture, and is often simply impossible to accomplish.

There seem to be several branches to follow when in pursuit of the undisputed roots of any number of Valentine's Day traditions when it comes to sharing a sentiment in the written word.

One contributor to the tradition of writing one's romantic sentiments and thoughts down on paper surfaced in 1415 with the help of an imprisoned French Duke who spent much of his time in the infamous Tower of London putting original romantic verses - poems -to his wife down on paper.

If a bit of sticker shock hits when you look at the imprinted price on the back of some of the most appealing mass produced cards available today consider what historians had to say about "proposal valentines". Often these highly detailed mass produced cards generally included visual hints referring to the image of a church or even a ring and routinely cost a man a month's pay.

When it comes to deciding what valentine greeting will be perfect to share with your sweetheart, an invitation to go antique shopping might prove one of the most thoughtful and romantic paths to travel this February 14.

Loccisano may be reached at kloccisano@timesleaderonline.com

(Loccisano used several sources to research this topic including the website Kovels.com.)

 
 

 

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