Vintage Valentines

Happy Valentine’s Day! A day to celebrate everybody we love in our lives, I thought I’d share some vintage valentine cards.

Valentine’s Day is often said to have originated with the Roman feast of Lupercalia, a festival of fertility that took place between the 13th and 15th February, that was then taken over by the Pope trying to Christianise the festival by declaring Valentine’s Day on February 14th. But, Lupercalia was anything but romantic, and the first mention of Valentines was in a Geoffrey Chaucer poem in the fourteenth century.

Anonymous Valentine, French, ca.1775. An example of the expressions of friendship and romance that were popular in the late eighteenth century in France. Met Museum, OA image. 1984.1164.69.

Although Valentine’s cards are relatively recent, the earliest surviving note sent on Valentine’s Day was written by the Duke of Orleans in 1415. After the Battle of Agincourt, he was a prisoner in the Tower of London, and he sent a note to his wife.

Kate Greenaway, Valentine, ca.1880. Met Museum, OA image, 1981.1136.803.

The first Valentine’s cards – pre-printed, like the ones in the shops today – were sent in Georgian Britain. However, handmade cards, secretly slipped to a loved one, had started to be sent in the name of Valentine’s Day earlier in the eighteenth century.

Anonymous Valentine, ca.1880. Met Museum, OA image, 1981.1136.662.

Mass-production of Valentine’s cards began under the Victorians (of course, industrialisation meant more capacity for printing!), and with postal changes in the 1840s, the popularity increased.

Kate Greenaway, Valentine, ca.1880. Met Museum, OA image, 1981.1136.784.

I thought it would be fun to share some of these from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art – some of them are so elaborate in their paperwork.

Anonymous Valentine, c.1860. Met Museum, OA image, 1981.1136.574.

Read more:

Mental Floss and BBC History Extra have really interesting articles on the history of Valentine’s and also the connection that is frequently made to Lupercalia.


  1. Valentines ? One of my favourites – a Paston letter, complaining to her husband that she must think of him, day and night, none of her clothes fit, etc… All his fault, obviously

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