The more unusual Valentine cards in our collection…

By other museum staff on 14 Feb 2012

As of today the whole of the Museum’s collection of  Victorian Valentine cards  is available online, so be sure to take a look and find your favourites via this link

Collection online project assistant Ellie, who will be talking about some of her favourites at the Museum’s Pleasure Garden Ball tonight, continues her blog posts focusing on the collection with a look at the more unusual cards in the collection…

As everywhere seems festooned with cards and hearts today, I thought it might be refreshing to share some of the more unusual valentine’s in the museum’s collection in more detail. Today I’m going to tell you about the insulting and comic valentine’s cards which are now online.

As well as the romantic cards, King’s shop sold a wide selection of less affectionate valentines. These ranged from gentle teasing and novelty valentines to some with really spiteful messages. This example, featuring a wooden leg, is at the gentler end of the spectrum. The paper used in this card suggests it was produced in a similar style to the sentimental cards and with a similar purpose in mind.

There are a range of these novelty cards, and many, like the ‘lobster in love’, are lift-the-flap cards. When the lobster is raised it reveals the message ‘I have a lady in my head’. These were produced between 1860 and 1880, by which time the symbols of valentines cards were quickly becoming established. There was still space for invention so these would have been an alternative and experimental range of cards. Sadly for me, the lobster experiment did not take off and failed to last through the years as a romantic motif.

As the cards were collected from shop stock, we don’t know quite how many of these were sold – the wooden leg card, for example, must have had a fairly finite market. The entrepreneurial spirit of these early valentine merchants evidently identified a gap in the market: why limit valentine purchases to your one and only sweetheart when you could send cards to all the people you disliked as well?

The spiteful cards certainly look striking, a lively contrast to the romantic cards which tended to be rather repetitive. Unlike the sentimental cards, the insulting cards are not ornate and they certainly weren’t made of expensive, embossed lace papers. On the whole, the insulting cards are cheaply printed and crudely hand-coloured. As well as a caricature they include mocking rhymes, explaining in no uncertain terms why the recipient can never hope for romantic feelings from the sender. In the museum’s collection the majority were designed to be sent to men, as they mock specific trades and work. For example the poem in the card above end with the lines: ‘You may cut people’s lips but you’ll never kiss mine/ I’ll not have a shaver for my Valentine’. There are also some designed to be sent to women; these tend to mock the recipient’s appearance or behaviour. It is possible that they were sent with flirtatious intent, although it’s hard to imagine any recipient being forgiving enough for that plan to work.

Be they silly, rude, spiteful or menacing these strange cards reveal much about Victorian relationships.

Catch up on Ellie’s previous blog posts here.

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