Symbols, Meanings, and Old Valentine's Cards that define Valentine's Day

a vintage valentines day card:)
a vintage Valentine's Day card:)

St. Valentine's Day

"Tommorow is St. Valentine's Day,

All in the morning betime,

And I a maid at your window,

To be your Valnetine."

So sang Ophelia, Polonious' mad daughter, as she had a fleeting impression that it was the eve of Valentine's Day-a day set aside for lovers. The thought, however, was but momentary, and the brief image of the lover was soon lost in the vacant chambers of her mind. And so it is today; the day of St. Valentine means hardly more to lovers than it did to Ophelia, and the lacy-edged, flower-bedecked messages of devotion are no longer sent as they used to be in the name of the good Saint.

It is true that now, almost everywhere, St. Valentine's Day is, outwardly at least, a much degenerated festival. The "Whole world loves a lover," however, and the day is still set aside for the Patron Saint of Love, although not nearly as ardently as in the sentimental verses; candy in red satin boxes; heart-shaped, beautifully packaged perfume; or flowers-only as a "greeting," and not a "proposal."

Children like a valentine box, with a slit in the top, in which to mail their valentines at school. Do you know there is a certain town in Colorado named "Loveland" whose post office does a land-office business around this special holiday? It all began in 1947, when some individaul sent them valentines for remailing. The postmasterstamps them with an appropriate red seal "Loveland" and drops them in the mail again.

Why not have children make replicas of old valentines- they can be associated with the history of our nineteenth century, when our customs and art were dominated by the Victorian influence? To get the teachers started-here are a few of the most important types, along with hints on how to make them. I am also including the history of some of the symbols used for decoration, just to entertain the children.

Symbols Found on Valentines

There have been valentines from the beginning of time yet, oddly enough, the man who originally offered himself as a valentine had nothing so romantic in mind. St. Valentine was a young Roman who was martyred for refusing to give up Christianity. He died in A.D. 270 on February 14, the very day that, by coincidence, had been devoted to love lotteries and to fine-feathered friendsships. According to legend, he left a farewell note for the jailer's little daughter, who had befriended him in prison, and signed it "from your Valentine."

Many signs and symbols connected with Valentine's day are ancient indeed. The red heart, like the red rose, which often crops up on valentine cards, has signified love and emotion since early Roman times.

Historian Jack Oruch has made the case that the traditions associated with "Valentine's Day", documented in Geoffrey Chaucer's Parliament of Foules and set in the fictional context of an old tradition, had no such tradition before Chaucer.[20] He arg
Historian Jack Oruch has made the case that the traditions associated with "Valentine's Day", documented in Geoffrey Chaucer's Parliament of Foules and set in the fictional context of an old tradition, had no such tradition before Chaucer.[20] He arg | Source

Ribbons, Laces and Frills

Ribbons and frills have been associated with romance since the days of knighthood, when the chap in shiny armor rode into battle with a ribbon or a scarf given him by his lady fair. According to the dictionary, the word "lace" comes from a Latin word meaning to "snare" or "noose"-so its appropriate to a valentine.

red bowtie
red bowtie
red laces
red laces
red frills
red frills

Cupid

Cupid was one of the gods of mythology, whose name in Latin means "desire." He is usually represented as a chubby, naked, winged boy or youth with a mischievous smile. He possesed a bow with a quiver of arrows by which he transfixed the haerts of youths and maidens. His darts, some of which were poisionus at the tip, couls pierce anywhere.

Cherubs are descendants of Cupid. They are lovable little winged creatures, generally without arrows and quiver. They may be mischievous, but not like Cupid, who aims and draws regardless of the consequences.

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Cherubs

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The Rose

The rose, which speaks of love, is undoubtedly the most popular flower in the whole world. By rearranging the letters in the word "rose," we get "Eros" the god of Love. This may explain why it has always been called the flower of romance, the choice of lovers in every country.

Cleopatra contributed much to the popularity of the rose. When she received Mark Antony, she spared no expense in entertaining him royally. Roses, eighteen inches deep, were strewn on the floor, the couches were covered with rose petals and the fountains were filled with rose water.

Empress Josephine of France might well be called the fairy godmother of the rose. She stimulated research in experimental hybridizing of roses with money and grants from her own private fortune. Napoleon's valentine with the rose, mask and fan is probably the most famous one in the world.

red roses have become a popular symbol of Valentine's Day and of love.
red roses have become a popular symbol of Valentine's Day and of love.

Hands

A lady's hand was a favorite decoration. It was not particularly a symbol, but denoted "femininity." Its beauty was enhanced by adding a frilly cuff and a jeweled ring on the third finger.

Clasped hands, of course, represent those of Queen Victoria and prince Albert and were symbolic of the friendship between their two countries, Germany and England.

Turtle Doves and Love Birds

"oft have I heard both youth and Virgin say

Birds choose their mates, and couples too, this day;

But by their flight I never can divine,

When I shall couple with my Valentine."

Herrick

Perhaps the above verse explains why birds were used as a decoration on so many old valentines. It was an ancient belief that birds chose their mate for the year on February 14. Some birds, the pigeon and dove, for instance, mate for life, so they may be used as a symbol of "fidelity."

Violets

There is a legend about the imprisoned young Christian named Valentine. During his confinement, often and longingly he thought of his loved ones and wanted to assure them of his well being. Beyond his window, within his reach, grew some violets. He picked some of the leaves and pierced them with the words "Remember your Valentine" and sent them off by a dove. On the following day he sent more messages which simply said "I love you."

The history of the valentine in America appears to have begun during the middle of the eighteenth century. Valentines were laboriously wrought and most were void of lacy frills, undoubtedly for lack of materials. Instead, they displayed fine workmanship in pen and ink, cut paper, and hand-painted designs of flowers, hearts, birds, etc. in elaborated colors. The verses were most sentimental, usually composed by the sender. The early valentines are seldom seen today, but I would like to mention a few of the most popular styles:

Puzzik- About 1840, a quaint sort of homemade valentine appeared. It was in the form of a puzzle which the receiver had to solve. She had not only to decipher the message but also to figure how to refold the paper once it was opened. The order of the verses were usually numbered, and the recipient had a merry time twisting the folds this way and that to determine what was said.

Daguerreotype- This type of a valentine was popular about 1840 and on through the Civil War. It featured an old-time tintype in the center of a card surrounded with an ornamented wreath in the same class was the "Mirror Valentine" which had a small mirror placed in the center to reflect the happy face of the receiver.

Rebus- This came in many different forms, but usually it was a romantic verse written in ink with certain words omitted and illustrated with a picture to indicate the sense. It was meant to be a riddle and was not always easy to decipher.

Watch Papers- These little watch papers were popular in the days when men carried pocket watches, and they were made to fit within the back or front of a watch, which in those days measured from two inches to two and a half inches in diameter.

A Puzzik Valentine Card

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Valentine card brainstoming ideas

Daguerrotype Valentine Card

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How to make handmade valentines cards

Rebus Valentine Cards

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Watch Papers Valentine Card

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Types of Old Valentines

The old valentines on page 39 were chosen not for their historic value, but because they could be more easily made by school children. I am adding a few notes about their structure, but the decoration can be according to taste or material at hand:

Medallion- An early vogue favored a medallion in the center of a valentine-sometimes it was left vacant for a verse, but more oval in shape, but sometimes it was heartshaped, covered with a piece of crimson-colored satin.

Dressed or Paper Doll- valentines were made around 1860. They consisted for the most part of lithographed faces and feet of boys and girls, with the balance of the figures costumed from various sorts of materials.

Mechanical Valentines- were imported from England. They were constructed so that one or more of the features could be moved by pulling a string. Sometimes the eyes were made to move back and forth, or a hidden tongue would suddenly appear out of the mouth.

Window Valentines- were made with the main motiff concealed by a cover of something. Such as a door or window. The front of a church was a favorite design-then the door was opened and there stood a bride and a groom. During the Civil War, tents were sometimes used, and when the flaps were lifted, a soldier was seen seated on a cot.

Cobwebs- The proccess of cutting cobwebs is known as "papyrotamia." They were cut from the thinnest paper and were used to cover the main design like a spiderweb.

Fine Net Background- Sometimes the center was removed from a valentine and a piece of fine net substituted in its place. A gay motif was added. The delicate perforated background enhanced not only the colors but the importance of the design as well.

A Medallion Valentine Card

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Valentines Day Paper Doll cards

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A Mechanical Valentines Day Card

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A Window Valentines Card

go to the link to see how you can do one.
go to the link to see how you can do one. | Source

A Cobweb Valentine Day Card

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Methods of Decorating Old Valentines

Finding ways to decorate a valentine was a challenge indeed for our great-grandmothers. Materials, if any, were imported from Europe and they were supplemented by nature in the form of grasses, seaweed, pressed flowers and even feathers. Sometimes only the flower blossom was used, and the stem and leaves weere added by hand. Later on, Swags of highly colored motifs such as flowers, birds, butterflies etc. were shipped over from Germany. And were popularly used as ornamentation. They came in double sheets, the top being a highly colored decalcomania while the bottom one was filled with sentimental verses. The following techniques were also used to decorate valentines cards:

Cameo Embossing- This technique originated in England about 1826 and was sometimes called "paper lace." The embossed designs were copies of real lace but there were no perforations. Sometimes the women made them appear more realistic by using a method called Pin-pricks. This work, as the name indicates, was done by punching tiny holes in the paper with a pin or darning needle. It was used to fill in a definite area or background much as stippling is used on leather or metal. Lace pattern were made with a larger instrument or a knife.

Theorem Work- was achieved by drawing a design on oil paper. From this a stencil was cut and water colors were used through the cutouts. Gum arabic was then set to apply the color.

Cut Paper Designs- This is a technique familiar to almost everyone. The paper is creased into a number of folds and a design traced on the top fold. The part that is to be cut away is darkened, and connecting links to all the motifs is left. The background is removed with sharp scissors. The design depends on the number of folds.



St. Valntine's Day- The history you never knew

Romance without Words

On Valentine's Day millions of Americans say "I love You" by sending flowers to loved ones all over the United States. The language of flowers speaks in every tongue, and their meaning is the same today as it was centuries ago. This is the form of "sign language," for flowers that, according to florists has a tradition of its own:

Just as roses in a bouquet stand for love, leaves in an arrangement represent hope and the promise of fulfillment. A flower slanting to the right means "thou" or "thee," and one sloping to the left "I" or "me." Even specific leaves have come to have their own meaning. A laurel leaf twisted around a bouquet says "I am" and a folded ivy leaf indicates "I have."

How to tie the Celtic knot heart

The Term "Sub Rosa"

Queen Elizabeth I is said to have worn a rose behind her ear, no doubt copied from the Spanish. Some say this was a subtle way of saying that the wearer "heard all and said nothing." The origin of sub rosa" as a synonym for secrec and silence is obscure. There are those who claim it was started durig the time of the War of the Roses in England. There were two taverns near the Houses of Parliament, one dsplaying thered rose, the other the white rose. Each tavern was frequented by adherents of one of the other faction, and conferences were held in great secrecy. The participants, in referring to their conversations, would not divulge their secrets, saying they had taken place "under the rose."

Romance of the Fan

The fan is not only a thing of beauty imparting a subtl ar of romance and mystery, but it is also an ingenious instument of communication. In 1879, a code for communication with the fan was registered in the Patent Office in Washington as The Language of the Fans, designed to meet the most delicate situation. For exmple, without her being unmaidnly, the lady's fan in the left hand meant "desirous of acquintance." However, if she carried the fan in her left hand and gave it a sudden twirl, she would all at once be deserted because that meant "yes" and, o the left cheeck, "no." Dropping the fan coyly suggested "we could be friends," whereas rapid fanning warned "I am engaged."

Language of the Handkerchief

The handkerchief also has its own language, although it is more limited in scope as far as we have been able to ascertain. We do know that the handkerchief thrown over the soulder means "follow me," and one dropped on the floor for a gentleman to recover says "I would like to meet you." Also, the arrangement of the four corners of a nicely folded handkerchief can signify a message. Perhaps the children would enjoy working out a code of their own.

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Comments 2 comments

Celebrates profile image

Celebrates 22 months ago

I love the vintage Valentines day cards and artwork. I did not realize how much symbolism is used. Great article!


pongogirl2 profile image

pongogirl2 21 months ago from California, USA Author

Thanks @Celebrates:)

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