( ; The History of Valentine's ; )
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Valentine Writers. After 1723, American valentines began to grow with the import from England of valentine "writers." A writer was a booklet containing a vast array of verses and messages which could be copied onto gilt-edged letter paper or other decorative sheets. One popular writer contained not only "be my valentine" type
verses for men to send, but also acceptance or "answers" which women could return. Here is an example:
A short time since I danc'd with you,
And from that hour lov'd you true;
Your pleasing form, your charming air,
Might with a fabl'd grace compare;
Your accents, so melodious sweet,
Still on my ear does seem to beat;
And 'tis the first wish of my life,
To win my Delia for a wife;
Deign, my sweet maid, a line to send,
And may love's saint my plea defend.
Your Valentine is very kind,
Nor did a cool reception find;
Your company gave me delight,
When I danced with you t'other night;
Then mutually we did incline,
Our hearts to love, my Valentine.
From then on, Valentines became less artistic and overornamented. During the Gay Nineties they were adorned with garish spun glass, mother-of-pearl, imitation jewels, or silk fringe. Proof of the less attractive, cheap-looking
valentine is seen in the "vinegar valentine." John McLaughlin, a New York printer, created these comic valentines that were printed on cheap paper in crude colors. His messages made fun of old maids, teachers, and others.
Comic designs done in 1870 by the American cartoonist Charles Howard were called "penny dreadfuls"--a perfect name for them because they sold for a penny and the designs were dreadful.
The first U.S. made valentines were crafted by a Mount Holyoke College student, Miss Esther Howland. Her father, a stationer in Worcester, MA, imported valentines every year from England. Esther, however, decided to create her own valentine messages. Around 1830 she began importing lace, fine papers, and other supplies for her valentines. She employed several assistants and her brothers helped market her "Worcester" valentines. As one of our first successful U.S. career women her sales amounted to about a hundred thousand dollars annually--not bad for the 1830's.
In our century we've seen a change from the heavy sentimentality of earlier days to what can best be described as a light touch. Nowadays a valentine usually accompanies a more elaborate gift of candy, flowers, perfume, etc.
American school children usually celebrate St. Valentine's Day with a party at school. Prior to the party the children make a decorated box with a slot in the top. During the party the children distribute valentines to their classmates' Valentine's Box.
Valentine cards are manufactured on an enormous scale today that range from the sentimental to sophisticated to humous valentines. There is a valentine for everyone--sweetheart, spouse, children, parents, teacher and even your pet! In terms of the number of greeting cards sent, Valentine's Day ranks second only to Christmas.
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