We are Valentine’s Day enthusiasts here at the museum and we’ve already eaten enough heart-shaped treats today to prove it. Aside from chocolates and roses, Valentine’s Day wouldn’t be complete without cards. The commercialization of the holiday has steadily advanced to its present state beginning in the mid eighteenth century.
Exchanging Valentine’s Day messages first became popular in mid 1700s England. The development of a more reliable, affordable postal service made it possible for people to mail each other messages of love. Tokens of affection were handmade with lace, paper, ribbons and poetic rhymes. Talk about a labor of love!
By the early to mid 1800s, cards were commonly assembled in factories with embossed paper replacing actual lace. Workers hand painted colorful illustrations over black and white printed images. The end of the century ushered in the complete mechanization of the card-making process. Elaborate pop-up cards became very popular around this time.
Massachusetts printer, Esther Howland is credited with spreading the mass-produced valentine in the United States. She was intrigued with a British valentine she received in 1847 and started producing her own with materials she imported from England. Howland’s business became wildly successful with an annual profit of over $100,000. The full descent into commercialism accelerated in 1913 when Hallmark produced its first valentine. The rest is history.
This particular card is a handsome example of a late 1800s to early 1900s mass produced valentine. It features embossed paper lace, scrap appliques and ribbon. The valentine has been part of the museum’s permanent collection since 2001 and is housed in the archives.
It was presumably given to Christina Olig from her husband, John Schmitt, a descendent of the Welter family. He and his brother immigrated from Germany and later became US citizens in Pennsylvania. Three years later they moved to Wisconsin. There, John fell in love with Christina, a widow with three children. The couple married and moved to Nebraska.