I Love You…I Love You Not: Victorian Valentine’s Day cards

By sarah madden, blog editor on 30 Jan 2014
Victorian Valentine's cards

Victorian Valentine’s cards

When the Uniform penny post rocked up in 1840, it completely revolutionised the way in which people communicated. Sending letters and cards, such as those celebrating Valentine’s Day, became easier and cheaper and as a result a thriving business developed in central London.

We have over 1,700 Valentine’s Day cards in the museum collection – all of which were designed and printed right here in London. Most of them were made in the workshops of one Islington based stationer Jonathan King, who ran a card making studio next door to his shop on the Essex Road.

Selection of Victorian Valentine's cards on display at the Museum of London

Selection of Victorian Valentine’s cards on display at the Museum of London

But Victorian Valentine’s cards weren’t all sweet and saccharine declarations of undying love! As well as the beautifully illustrated and romantic (examples above), the cards in our collection range from gentle teasing and novelty to downright insulting and plain weird.

See some of these cards on permanent display at the Museum of London, along with other items of romance and affection at Late London: City of Seduction. In the meantime, here’s a selection of our favourite alternative Valentine’s:

Nothing says ‘Be my Valentine’ like a Victorian roller skating cupid

Cupid firing an arrow and wearing roller skates, 1881-1900

‘Ere CUPID wore the nimble wheel, Which supersedes the glittering steel, Yet scarcely proves so safe a keel, And went a-RINKING He launched a dart and wounded me, My sweet, the bolt was tipped with thee, And so I met it lovingly, Without once SHRINKING’

This embossed card with silvered lace features a cat taunting a caged bird is one of the more humorous cards in our collection, and perhaps a pre-cursor to LOLcats?


‘May the one I love be preserved from all dangers’

Crustaceans might not be the typical symbol of romance, but this surreal ‘Lobster in Love’ surrounded by white lace paper flaps down to reveal an equally strange hidden message of ‘I have a lady in my head’.

Love-sick lobster of the Victorian era

Love-sick lobster of the Victorian era

Finally, if you wanted to ensure you were lonely on Valentine’s Day, this comically cruel card would’ve been a good way to upset any potential partner…

The only man, who smiles on you!

The only man, who smiles on you!

Other more unusual ‘romantic’ items in our collection will be out on display as part of the museum’s Late London: City of Seduction event this Valentine’s Day, including posy rings and Victorian erotica! If that’s not an exciting way to spend Valentine’s Day, we’re not sure what is…

One thought on “I Love You…I Love You Not: Victorian Valentine’s Day cards

  1. Sara M says:

    Beautiful cards and amazing event! I will do my best to be there :-)

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