The obligatory giving of flowers, candy and cards often makes Valentine’s Day—supposedly a holiday for celebrating true love—seem like just another example of consumerism gone mad.
But collectors can take heart. With more cards, candy tins and cuddly teddy bears on the marketplace than you can shake a cupid’s arrow at, Valentine’s Day keepsakes are a surefire source of the warm and fuzzies. And at generally reasonable prices, they’re a good investment, too.
The holiday as we celebrate it today is a whole lot sweeter than its pagan origins. Valentine’s Day is believed to be a Christianized offshoot of Lupercalia, a fertility festival celebrated on Feb. 15 in ancient Rome. Modern lovers can thank Pope Gelasius for recognizing that the pagan traditions of Lupercalia—frenzied boys slapping womenfolk with strips of goat hide soaked in sacrificial blood, for instance, and a crude lottery system that allowed randy bachelors to literally pull the names of their mates out of a communal urn—were not only un-Christian but downright un-romantic, as well.
Lupercalia out, St. Valentine in
Around 498 A.D., the pope gave a thumb’s down to Lupercalia and decreed Feb. 14 would be celebrated as a Christian feast day in honor of St. Valentine—but which one? Historians disagree because there were no less than three third-century Christian saints named Valentine or Valentinus. Supposedly, they were all martyred on the same date—Feb. 14.
Tales of these mystery-enshrouded religious figures’ heroism and propensity for romance gave rise to numerous legends. One of the most popular has a lovelorn priest named Valentine, confined to jail and awaiting his death sentence, writing a letter to his beloved and signing it “From Your Valentine,” a catchy sentiment that would live forevermore.
Over the centuries, Valentine’s Day evolved into a day specifically set aside for lovers. A pivotal event occurred in 1414 when Charles, the Duke of Orleans, a prisoner of war in the Tower of London, penned a love poem to his wife on—you guessed it—Feb. 14. That heartfelt note, still in existence, is considered the earliest known valentine.
Antique Valentine's card
For more information about this beautiful card, visit GoAntiques.
By the late 1700s, Britishers’ fondness for exchanging small tokens of love on Valentine’s Day, including handwritten notes and homemade cards bedecked with lace, satin and ribbon, gave way to commercially printed, ready-made cards featuring poeticized sentiments.
1909 Ullman card
If you would like this lovely card for your loved one, go to GoAntiques.
In America, entrepreneur Esther A. Howland became known as “The Mother of the Valentine” in the 1840s for her pioneering card designs marrying elaborate floral and lace decorations with such enduring sentimental motifs as bleeding hearts, turtledoves, cupids and lovers’ knots. Today, Americans send about a billion valentine cards every year, second only to Christmas, which boasts a 2.6 billion-card volume annually.
The 20th century saw the advent of more whimsical and humorous valentine cards, particularly in America, where schoolchildren adopted the tradition of Valentine’s Day parties, often built around crepe paper-decorated valentine boxes for collecting store-bought cards from classmates.
Small boy in uniform
Find out more about this blushing cutie on GoAntiques.
For decades, children’s valentines, commonly sold in classroom-sized packs, have typically featured lovesick cartoon animals and cherubic kids delivering pun-filled declarations of puppy love. Highly sought after among collectors, mechanical valentines dating from the 1930s-1950s are among the most charming valentine ephemera.
More about this adorable honey can be found on GoAntiques.
The aphrodisiac properties of chocolate have been appreciated for centuries, but it wasn’t until the 1860s that British chocolatier Richard Cadbury had the genius idea of putting the food of love—or maybe just lust—in a heart-shaped box. Victorian swains on both sides of the pond found it a dandy way to woo their valentines, and a courtly tradition was born. Today, Americans purchase some 38 million heart-shaped boxes of candy every Valentine’s Day.
Fairbrook candy tin
This beautiful collectible is being offered on GoAntiques.
Heart-shaped valentine tins dating from the early to mid 1900s are highly collectible, particularly those from legendary brands like Hershey, Whitman and Fanny Farmer. On the contemporary front, collectors get all shook up over Russell Stover’s long-running line of Elvis Presley valentine tins.
Elvis Presley tins
If the King of Rock ’N’ Roll rules your heart, you might covet these Elvis tins.
In recent years, Valentine’s Day teddy bears have gained in popularity as both collectibles and alternative romantic gifts. Vintage teddies by Ideal and Knickerbocker command premium prices in exceptional condition. With dozens of Valentine’s Day editions available, Ty’s Beanie Baby Bears and American Greetings’ Care Bears offer collectors unending possibilities to express their ursine ardor.
1940s teddy bear
Isenberg teddy bear
If you’d like to cuddle this 1940s bear, visit GoAntiques. Or what about this charmer designed by Barbara Isenberg? It, too, can be found on GoAntiques.
KISS-e Ty Beanie Baby
Tenderheart Care Bear
Pucker up to this Beanie Baby on GoAntiques. Does this Care Bear melt your heart? Check it out on GoAntiques.
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