Paper lace was used for Valentines during the Victorian era.

A brief history of Valentines and how they became mainstream

Long before email salutations, true romantics found ways to express themselves with valentines. Just because the expressions were made of paper, often by hand, doesn’t mean they were simple. 

Your grandparents were in love once and so were their parents before them. So, before you throw any heart-shaped, crusty old cards in the dump, maybe you can see if there is a little money to share as well as heartfelt words.

Many American valentine crafters used not only ink and paper, but adorned their creations with sketches, watercolors, pinpricks and cutouts to make them more interesting and personal. 

Occasionally semiprecious stones and jewels found their way into a valentine. Sometimes natural elements such as bark and dried flowers were used along with cloth, yarn, ribbon and even locks of hair. The earliest valentines were sealed with wax and delivered by hand. If the greeting was anonymous, it would be left where the intended recipient would surely find it. Most of the oldest valentine treasures are in museums now and rarely found by romantic collectors today. 

Mass-production of valentines found its way to marketplaces in the late 1830s, and the first printed ones started to be made in the United States in the early 1840s. By the middle of the 19th century, hearts, roses and Cupid with his bow became popular with both valentine creators and givers. 

During the 1870s, George C. Whitney developed domestic material and the equipment needed to create fancy embossing. Before this machine-age introduction, paper lace was most often imported from around the world. Stand-up cards and three-dimensional cards hit popularity around 1895, along with honeycomb paper puffs which opened to form bells, Asian fans, hearts and other various shapes. Being convenient to mail, these cards remained popular for many years to come. 

Honeycombs were easily mailed to happy recipients who folded them out and placed them on a mantle or dresser for all to see. The Victorian versions often featured automobiles, ships and trains with moving parts to add special effects. Unfortunately, the movement and playtime caused them to deteriorate more rapidly than other types of valentine greetings. This scarcity adds to their value however, and they are currently prized by collectors…that is when you can find one!

For goods made of paper more than 100 years old, Victorian cards can be found in relatively good condition. In fact, the colors on the cards are usually still quite vibrant if properly stored. 

Anyone seeking vintage valentines will find the supply of older cards dwindling. The popularity of Victorian decorating and reproductions on calendars and other paper goods during the past 20 years introduced many new collectors to the field. Those just starting to collect often seek valentine postcards produced from about 1900 to 1930, and newer flat cards exchanged between children during the 40s and 50s due to their affordability and availability on auction sites like eBay.

As collectibles of the future, cards have the potential for increasing in value. So, I would think twice about throwing out grandma’s shoe box full of memories!

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