What Valentine’s Day Looked Like Hundreds of Years Ago

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Anonymous Cards
> Time: 1830s

As Americans began to use the postal service more frequently in the early 19th century (stamps were first used in 1847), Valentine’s Day cards began to be sent anonymously through the mail. And because the cards were anonymous, the sender might compose prose that could be salacious.

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First Commercial Cards
> Time: 1840s

The first commercially made Valentine’s Day cards started to appear in England in the 1830s and then in the United States the following decade.

Source: Public Domain

‘Vinegar Valentines’
> Time: 1840s

Valentine’s Day card giving can be a bittersweet experience. An early version of trolling was the sending of what are called “Vinegar Valentines” — mean-spirited and hurtful sentiments sent to people. The cards were first sent during the 1840s and gained popularity in the following decades. Some of the contents could be teasing and mocking about one’s physical appearance. And some actually suggested that the reader commit suicide.

Source: Courtesy of Esther Howland / American Antiquarian Society

Mother of the American Valentine
> Time: 1840s

Massachusetts native Esther Howland is credited with launching the commercial Valentine’s Day card industry. Howland got the idea after receiving a Valentine’s card when she graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 1847. She called her venture New England Valentine Co.

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Political Valentines
> Time: 1850s

Valentine’s Day cards diversified from purely romantic missives to more political, funny, and satirical sentiments in the mid-part of the 19th century. This tradition continued and these days President Donald J. Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin are popular subjects of political-themed Valentine’s Day cards.