Victorian Valentine Cards

Valentine’s Day is celebrated in many countries around the world and has been associated with love and lovers since the Middle Ages. In eighteenth-century England it evolved into an occasion when sweethearts expressed their feelings for each other by exchanging flowers and sweets and by sending sentimental cards known as ‘Valentines’.

In the nineteenth century, hand-written and coloured Valentines were superseded by mass-produced printed greetings cards. At the same time, reductions in postal rates not only popularised the sending of these cards but also made it much more easy to do so anonymously, giving rise to the tradition of the ‘secret’ admirer.

Victorian Valentine cards were often fancily made from an assortment of scraps and embellishments such as lace paper, net, feather and swansdown, coloured tissue and silk and satin ribbons and paddings. Many had elaborate folding systems. Admirers could also buy books of Valentine’s verses, containing poems and mottoes which they could copy into in their cards.


Image: English c.1870. BELUM.Zg3611
English c.1870. BELUM.Zg3611

This lithographed card dates from around 1870 and is made up of a delicate heavily pierced three-dimensional paper frame depicting a shepherd and shepherdess (unfortunately the head of the shepherd is missing) standing in a wooded classical landscape.

In the centre is a postman in a shako hat and a red, hexagonal pillar box. These are applied, printed cut-outs and help to date the card.

The verse in the shield flanked by purple garlands reads ‘I could love thee for Ever and Ever’


Image: London, c.1860. BELUM.Zg3613
London, c.1860. BELUM.Zg3613

The front of this card is a red, embossed design of lacy ivy leaves, framed in silver paper, with silk ties, centred with an applied picture of a bouquet of flowers within an elaborate embossed and pierced silvered paper frame.

Inside the card there is an arched, gold-framed opening of a size capable of holding a photographic carte-de-visite portrait.


Image: English, c.1870. BELUM.Zgv461
English, c.1870. BELUM.Zgv461

The front of this card is made from a pierced and embossed paper lace page cut out at the centre to hold an applied picture of a cherub with silvered wings on a lace net backing. This is surrounded by an embossed and pierced silvered paper frame, and surmounted by an applied cut-out of a garland of roses behind crossed flaming torches.


Image: English c.1840. BELUM.Zg3607
English c.1840. BELUM.Zg3607

This card is edged with a border of elaborate scrolls in paper lace with a centre panel of cream silk painted with green leaves carrying applied flowers and leaves hiding little notes of love, and surmounted by an applied bird placing the message ‘Are you loved and by whom?’ into a basket.

The handwritten verses read:

Oh let me hear that breathing sigh steal softly from thy breast
Oh let me read within that eye

The love that makes me blest
Oh let me see thy faithful head
Reflected on thy cheek

And I will never ask thy lips
One word of love to speak
Thus let me by thy silence learn

How much thy heart is mine
And I will bless thy glancing love
My gentle Valentine


Image: French, c.1840. BELUM.Zg3606
French, c.1840. BELUM.Zg3606

This card has an embossed border with garlands and roses in the corners with cupids emerging and an inner border with scallop shells. The centre is a pith paper panel painted with flowers surrounded by an applied gilt double wreath. There are embossed mottos in French at top, bottom and on corners.

The hand written verse reads:

More sweetly do there rosebuds twine
How beautiful to view
Just as my lovely Valentine
I wish to join with you

How happy is the married state
When hearts like roses join
Then take me darling for thy mate
My charming Valentine


Image: English c.1855; from the Emma Shaw Boyd Collection. BELUM.Zgv459
English c.1855; from the Emma Shaw Boyd Collection. BELUM.Zgv459

This card has an elaborate silvered paper lace pierced frame with an applied central picture of a child with a dove.

At the bottom is an applied picture of a cherub amidst flowers and at the top an applied picture of a lover’s knot crowned with roses, above the motto ‘Waiting for Thee’.

The card is inscribed ‘with cousin Annie’s love’.


English c.1840. BELUM.Zg3605
English c.1840. BELUM.Zg3605

This elaborate card has a border of paper lace surrounding an inner border of embossed scallop shells and red and gold lattice enclosing an envelope embossed with blue and gold scrolls which opens to reveal a half length portrait of a woman reading, hand painted over a line engraving.

The verse reads:

Days and weeks and months seasons
Run their rapid course [and] say
That the lovers vain is reasons
Life’s too short for long delay!


Image: English, c.1846. BELUM.Zg3610
English, c.1846. BELUM.Zg3610

This card is printed with scrolls surrounding a hand-coloured lithograph line-print of a young man being shown a dream of linked hearts by a cupid.

The hand-written verse reads:

I dreamed of fancy form and grace
And all of heaven that might surround it
I woke gazing on thy face
Eureka, said my heart, I’ve found it

I mused awhile on constancy
Of faithful hearts I had been dreaming
One single glance of that blue eye
Assured me I had not been dreaming

Come Life! Come Love!
Within these arms
I’ll clasp thee with a love enduring
Time shall in vain erase thy charms
A heart like thine – true love enduring


Image: English, c.1840. BELUM.Zg3604
English, c.1840. BELUM.Zg3604

This card has a border of finely embossed foliage and net over a blue background with an inner scalloped lace border surrounding a garland of applied, painted flowers and leaves, which lifts to allow a hand-written declaration beneath. Above is an applied gilt circlet of roses enclosing applied feathers, below a silver bird.

The handwritten verses read:

Art thou nor dear unto my heart
Ah! Search that heart and see

And from my bosom tear that part
That beats not true to thee

But to that bosom thou art dear
More dear than words can tell

And if a fault be cherished there
Tis loving thee too well


Image: Rock and Co., London, c.1840. BELUM.Zg3603
Rock and Co., London, c.1840. BELUM.Zg3603

The front of this card has a paper lace border and a central area edged in black. The main motto ‘My love is True’ has elaborate hand painted scrolling from the letters.

The central verse reads:

My love, Oh! Think of me
When I am far away,
For I have cherished thoughts of thee,
To muse on day by day;
And, while I strive within my breast
All sorrow to subdue
One feeling only makes me blest,
It is to know thee


Image: English, c.1840. BELUM.Zgv482
English, c.1840. BELUM.Zgv482

This triple-fold card has a back of paper lace pierced and embossed with scrolls and flowers.

The central area consists of an applied garland of forget-me-not flowers encircling a pair of doves, inside a red border with garlands top and bottom printed with the mottos ‘True/Love’ and ‘Fidelity/Love’, and a handwritten message which reads ‘Oh! Be like the dove/As constant in Love’.


Image: Goodall and Son., London c.1870. BELUM.Zg3612
Goodall and Son., London c.1870. BELUM.Zg3612

This card has a scalloped and embossed edge with an applied coloured cut-out of nesting robins on a printed backdrop.

The printed verse, ‘To one I love’, reads:

Sweet is the woodbine’s fragrant twine
Sweet the ripe burden of the vine
The pea-bloom sweet that scents the air
The rosebud sweet beyond compare
The perfume sweet of yonder grove
Sweeter the lips of one I love

To match one grace with idle pain
Through nature’s store I search in vain
All that is bright and soft and sweet
Does in thy form concerted meet
Then muse how weak thy power must prove
To paint the charms of one I love