The Breathtaking Beauty of 19th–Century Valentine’s Day Cards

A Victorian-era Valentine’s Day Card, embossed and decorated with cherubs and flowers, reads on the inside: “Affection/Not Sunlight in it is prime/Nor Moonlight’s gentle ray; Is half so fair as Love, Which brightens day by day.”

It will be Valentine’s Day on Tuesday and love will be expressed in many ways, including the sending of Valentine’s Day cards, a tradition that is thought to have begun more than 20 years before Christopher Columbus went searching for America.

Margery Bowes is credited with sending the first Valentine in 1471, when she wrote “Friday is St. Valentine’s Day, and every bird chases a mate,” a riff off of  Geoffrey Chaucer, who wrote in 1382: “For this was on seynt Volantynys day/Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make” (“For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate”).

By the mid-18th century, commercial Valentines were being produced in Europe.

I am in no way a Valentine’s expert, but I do collect almost anything that is paper, such as letters pre-1900, photos, postcards, etc. I had a few Valentines in my collection, but until I met Gordon Bleuler in 2005, I had no idea how beautiful and wonderful valentine cards could be.

Whenever I—or anyone else, for that matter—would visit Gordon, he would show off his many beautiful collections (I must also mention that Gordon was one of the foremost philatelic authorities in the country).

Then one day, while visiting him, he told me he had a very special collection that was very dear to his heart, his Valentine collection! It took my breath away and I found myself needing air! I quickly became entranced with what he showed me. One Valentine was a Civil War-era example with a portrait of General I.B. Richardson, a major general in the United States Army who also served during the Mexican American War. Nicknamed the “Fighting Duck” for his prowess on the battlefield, he was mortally wounded at the Battle of Antietam near Sharpsburg, Md., on Nov. 3, 1862. This war-time Valentine’s envelope was postmarked Washington, D.C., of course.

The sender of this Valentine wrote in code to his love, Miss Mary Lewis. Showing the translation of the code on the left, the Valentine letter says, “Dearest. . . Words cannot describe how I love you. The more I hear of you the better I love you. . .”

This Civil War-era Valentine features a portrait of General I.B. “The Fighting Duck” Richardson, a major general in the Union Army. This war-time Valentine envelope was postmarked Washington, D.C., of course.

Another Valentine in this collection was sent on Valentine’s Day 1851, which the sender wrote in code to his love, Miss Mary Lewis. By using the code, the Valentine letter says, “Dearest. . . Words cannot describe how I love you. The more I hear of you the better I love you. . .” With Gordon being a philatelic postal collector, the stamped envelopes with the Valentines were a bonus to him. Sadly, Gordon passed away in 2007 at the age of 90. When his collections came to auction, I knew I wanted to try to acquire his beautiful collection of Valentines. Luckily, I did!

An envelope dated Feb. 13, 1864 adorned with two canceled five-cent Confederate States postage stamps.

The enclosed Valentine with the greeting “Enduring Affection.”

One of my favorite Valentines is a small, glazed envelope with pair of 5-cent blue (local printings) Confederate stamps. The ornate Valentine enclosure featured the words “In Peace and Love/Let Our Life Be Passed” in the center with embossed cherubs blowing trumpets.

Also included in this collection is a very unusual Valentine. It is a tiny, embossed valentine in blue and gold. This is a Charles Magnus envelope (silver), of Civil War era, very ornate with cherubs and heart. Magnus was known for his patriotic Union covers.

A small, glazed envelope containing a lovely Valentine.

This embossed card was enclosed.


I’m sure you all remember, as do I, working hard on signing Valentines to bring to elementary school the next morning, as it was the most exciting day of the year! You had a chance to let the boy or girl who you had a crush on to know your feelings and hoping to get one in return from them.

I wish I could show you all these spectacular valentines, but there is just not enough space. Still, here’s wishing everyone much love and friendship on this Valentine’s Day!

Gloria Burleson is a collector of all things ephemera who lives in the Dallas, Texas, area.

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