The Victorians were thoroughly in love with love. The original flower children were part of a time when affairs of the heart were more celebrated and necklines were not so buttoned up and so, of course, Valentine's Day promised great fun for all. Major paradigm shifts helped this along, including the increasingly common and shockingly modern idea that one could include love in their reasons for entering into holy matrimony. With this new freedom, Victorians devoted enormous energy to sending their dear ones missives worthy of their love. Common practices included hand-painting your own Valentines and rimming them in layers of fine lace, or gifting lockets, small mirrors, or "puzzle purses", origami inspired Valentines that delivered more and more dramatic professions of amour as they were unfolded. Love knots, amorous acrostics, and cheeky riddles abounded.
|An early example of a Puzzle Purse, circa 1816|
from Victoriana Magazine
|An example of an Esther Howland Valentine|
"sacrifices to the fane of St. Valentine—consisting of hearts, darts, Cupid peeping out of paper-roses, Hymen embowered in hot-pressed embossing, swains in very blue coats and nymphs in very opaque muslin, coarse caricatures and tender verses.”
Victorian Valentines were not limited to sweet nothings or even vaguely lewd suggestion, but were also occasionally used as a platform to shake a finger at someone or completely insult them. They ranged from the playful to the downright nasty. These were known as vinegar valentines and were a common practice throughout the waging of the Civil War, losing steam as one century turned into another. Perhaps it is not a tradition to be missed.
|An Esther Howland creation|
So this our Pickwick's Mercantile Valentine to you, a little bit of a peek at what inspires our own love of this delightful holiday. I hope that you are out upholding the legacy and spirit of Valentine's Day in your very own way today. You know we'll be at it today, tomorrow, and always!
"A loving heart is the truest wisdom."
- Mr. Charles Dickens
For more seasonally appropriate reading on this fun topic:
The Valentine - a Tribute to Love (Victoriana Magazine)
"Valentine's at the Post Office" by Charles Dickens
"Esther Howland and the American Valentine Industry"
"Love and Derision, or Valentine's Victorian Style"