A Passion for Collecting: Valentine’s Day Cards Through the Years

Named in honor of the martyred 3rd-century Roman priest and physician Valentinus, Valentine's Day means sending and receiving Valentine's Day cards. Legend has it that Valentinus was beheaded for helping Christian couples marry, and that he penned the world's first Valentine's card to his jailer's daughter on the eve of his execution.

Around 500 A.D., Pope Gelasius canonized Valentinus and declared February 14 as St. Valentine's Day to honor the martyr. Since that fateful time, Valentine's Day has evolved into a holiday that celebrates love, romance, and friendship.

When Was the First Valentine's Day Card Made?

While the origins of Valentine's Day cards are unclear, historians generally credit Esther Howland of Worcester, Massachusetts with publishing the very first American Valentine's Day card in 1849. She is thought to have launched a homemade card business from her home, growing her Howland's New England Valentine Co. into a thriving company that's reported to have generated as much as $100,000 in annual revenue.

Howland's venture was preceded by John Fairburn of London, England, who is said to have published the world's first printed Valentine's Day card on January 12, 1797. The card contained a printed verse complete with hand-colored cupids, doves, and flowers, and Fairburn posted the card to Catherine Mossday, along with a handwritten note asking for a date.

Pre-dating printed Valentine's Day cards are hand-crafted love notes, including what's believed to be the oldest surviving Valentine's greeting on paper. Crafted by the Duke of Orleans, a Frenchman imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1415, the note to his wife reads, "I am already sick of love, my very gentle Valentine." It remains carefully preserved in the British Library, which also holds a 1477 Valentine's Day letter that is thought to be the first-ever English-language Valentine.

When Did Hallmark Start Printing Valentine's Day Cards?

Although modern Valentine's Day cards pre-date the founding of the iconic greeting card company Hallmark, the tradition of exchanging romantic notes on February 14 in the U.S. really took off with the launch of Hallmark's first Valentine's Day cards in 1913.

In fact, a 1915 fire completely wiped out the company's inventory of Valentine's Day cards, which led to the purchase of the very printing presses which helped transform Hall Bros. into the Hallmark company. As of 1916, commercial production of Valentine's postcards and cards was thriving, and Valentine's Day cards quickly became an annual tradition throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, United Kingdom, Australia, France and Italy.

How Much Could Your Collectible Valentine's Day Cards Be Worth?

While Valentine's Day cards rarely retail for more than a few dollars, savvy collectors can transform a box filled with vintage cards into some cold hard cash.

The actual value of a vintage Valentine's Day card depends on multiple factors such as the condition of the card, its age, and most importantly, if it's a sought-after item. Handcrafted cards made with lace, ribbons, and parchment always create a buzz, as do Victorian-style three-dimensional cards made with die-cut images. Some Valentine's Day card collectors focus on postcard Valentines, which were common between the 1920s and 1940s.

Asking prices for collectible Valentine's Day cards go as high as $1,800 USD for a postcard from 1853, and there are multiple listings of vintage cards from the last century that are in the $200 range. Because there is such a wide range of prices for collectible Valentine's Day cards, serious collectors should have their cards appraised by a credible auction house or certified appraiser.

Protecting Your Collection

If you're a Valentine's Day card collector, or any collector, you already know the importance of protecting your collectibles against damage from moisture, fire, insects, and UV rays.

While due diligence can go a long way towards preserving the value of your collection, the right collectibles insurance policy ensures that your investment won't be wiped out if disaster strikes. Collectibles Insurance Services specializes in providing protection for all types of collectibles. For more information, contact our collectibles insurance experts today.

Sources:

https://www.history.com/news/6-surprising-facts-about-st-valentine

https://ideas.hallmark.com/articles/valentines-day-ideas/history-of-valentines-day/

https://www.collectorsweekly.com/cards/valentines

https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/3951-first-valentine-cards.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld/objects/L1NM_6mWRymAMKXcRDlXJA

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/arts/love-fleeting-vintage-valentines-worth-keeping