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Vintage Valentine Cards and Postcards

Updated on February 23, 2015

Collecting the Gifts of Love

Paper Valentines have been traded as expressions of love for hundreds of years. It's thought that the first hand made Valentines were given back in the 1400s. Beginning in the late 1700s, some Valentines were actually printed by manufacturers on a very limited basis. They were known as "mechanical Valentines" since they were not made individually, by hand with love by the giver for the object of his or her affection. Few of these early gifts survive today.

The 1800's dawned with a blooming interest - mostly from amorous young men - in pre-made cards with verses that they did not have to personally compose. In England, factories geared up to meet the demand. English artists and illustrators like Catherine (Kate) Greenaway, produced beautiful illustrations for cards and decorations. By the mid 1800s fancy Valentines were being produced by printers in England, Germany and in America.

Esther Howland - The Mother of the American Valentine

Esther Howland
Esther Howland
Esther Howland Valentine - Circa 1850s
Esther Howland Valentine - Circa 1850s

The Work of Esther Howland

The first "mass produced" Valentines cards in the United States were made by Esther Howland in Worcester, Massachusetts in the late 1840s. She had received an English Valentine from a business associate of her fathers. Her father was the owner of a book and stationary store.

Esther was intrigued by the Valentine and asked her father to order her some supplies through his store so she could make her own and see if they would sell. He did, she did and they did! Her business, which she named the "New England Valentine Company", took off and grew. She would eventually (in 1881) sell her very successful company to the now famous publisher, especially of postcards, George Whitney who was also based in Worcester.

The cards were hand embossed and embellished with intricate paper lace, bits of satin and other beautiful materials. They were often hand painted by Howland and her family and friends who worked in an assembly line sort of fashion. Original Esther Howland cards, like the one pictured, are highly coveted by collectors today. In good condition, they are rare and they can be moderately expensive to acquire. They were no less expensive at the time they were produced! Original Howland work is marked with a red letter "H" and, usually, a price that ranged from $.10 to $30.00 or more for elaborate designs. If you think about that in terms of the prevailing prices at the time, you could often buy an acre of land for much less!

The Penny Postcard Revolutionizes Sending Valentines

Prior to 1890, Valentines cards, even "mass produced" ones, were relatively expensive to mail. Most were presented directly to the recipient or hand delivered and left for - typically - her. They were typically presented by a man to one special woman.

In the late 1800s, the penny postcard was introduced in both Europe (in England at first and then, later, most of the continent followed) and in the U.S.. All manner of publishers sprang up to meet the demand for postcards to mark every occasion. It was the heyday of the Real Photo Postcard (RPPC) and of holiday greetings. Valentines became second only to Christmas greeting postcards in the volume of cards sent via postal mail. Regular cards continued to be sent as well, of course.

Lithographed postcards were being published or imported by the likes of Raphael Tuck and John Winsch. Many illustrators became well known for their Valentines cards and for their postcard art. Artists like Frances Brundage, Ellen Clapsaddle and Samuel Schmucker created hundreds of colorful romantic and playful designs that collectors go crazy over now, 100 years later.

What's Your Favorite?

Which of These Valentine Items do You Collect Most?

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AuctionZip
AuctionZip

Where to Find it All!

Do you want to add to your collection?

The best place to find vintage Valentine cards, postcards, and decorations is on eBay. You might also try lesser known auction sites. Our recommendation would be to check out Ruby Lane as well as eBay. A lot of great dealers in all of the above niches sell there as well.

If you're just looking for postcards, and you don't see what you seek at either of those two sites, give Delcampe a try. It's a site that specializes in postcards and just a few other things. Dealers congregate there. If you're looking for that elusive missing piece it may be your best bet to find it. If you're looking to start a collection or to buy in bulk to take what you want and resell the rest - or just to resell - eBay is really your best bet.

We have great luck at live, local auctions where we can often buy dozens of Valentine's cards in bulk, for a song. Check AuctionZip.com for local auctions occurring near you any night of the week.

In the mid 1900s, especially after WWII, mass produced, die-cut valentines on very light cardstock or rag paper were produced in sets for children. The sets and the "cards" from them are often referred to as "Tray Valentines" because they came in a little cardboard tray that was wrapped in colorful cellophane. These were just made to entice kids to exchange them with their friends and classmates. They often had cute, whimsical or comical designs on the front and were blank on the back for a child to sign his or her name. Sometimes cards were a form of subtle advertising for products that would appeal to children like brands of cereal and candies.

As we approached the 1970s, children's sets became even more commercial by taking on the images of favorite television and story characters. A box of cards often contained 24 pieces with 4 to 6 different images. Today, though not very old old at all related to the history of Valentines, certain sets have rabid fans who will go to the ends of the earth to have an example of each image!

Children's Valentines - Tray Valentine Sets

Vintage Disney Valentines Card Set
Vintage Disney Valentines Card Set
Star Wars Valentines Set
Star Wars Valentines Set

If you have a collection,

You should take steps to protect it.

The sheer variety and sizes of the different Valentine's expressions of love and affection we've talked about on this lens present some unique storage, protection and display needs.

Many actual Valentines cards are made of ornate lace paper and they're trimmed in ribbons and foil. Tissue paper inserts are common. Embossed raised surface designs abound. All of these things make preserving these cards properly a bit of a puzzle. You can certainly put these in albums. If you do, we recommend that you use high quality plastic sleeves with no PVC or other harsh chemicals that can react with the card surfaces. Such sleeves are made in many sizes. You can purchase them to fit every thing from the small Valentine's that were meant for Children to trade up to large, oversize mailing cards.

If you're going to use any sort of an album, remember; Always store your albums in a "cool, dry place".

Valentine Cards, Postcards, and Novelties

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Whitman's Candies Advertising ValentineEllen Clapsaddle Valentine PostcardFrances Brundage pop out ValentineWinsch Schmucker Valentine Postcard
Whitman's Candies Advertising Valentine
Whitman's Candies Advertising Valentine
Ellen Clapsaddle Valentine Postcard
Ellen Clapsaddle Valentine Postcard
Frances Brundage pop out Valentine
Frances Brundage pop out Valentine
Winsch Schmucker Valentine Postcard
Winsch Schmucker Valentine Postcard

The Definitive Reference on Vintage Valentines

The book below was published in 1999. It does contain a price guide which is, obviously, out of date. Please set that aside and consider this book if you're serious about collecting (or reselling) Valentines. This is, by far, the best book we've found on the subject.

Valentine Treasury: A Century of Valentine Cards (Schiffer Book for Collectors with Values)
Valentine Treasury: A Century of Valentine Cards (Schiffer Book for Collectors with Values)

From the first reference to a valentine card in 1625 to modern times, Valentine Treasury - A Century of Valentine Cards celebrates sentimental charm, wit, and romance over the decades in America's valentines. Page after page of colorful valentines ranging from elaborately decorated Victorian pull-downs to simple ones exchanged by schoolchildren in the 60s and 70s are displayed in over 560 spectacular color photographs. European origins as well as American traditions, celebration and card sending customs, card designs and themes, artists and manufacturers from Howland, Whitney, Prang, to Gibson, Hallmark, and American Greetings are included. Anyone who has ever sent or received a valentine will enjoy this fascinating book.

 

Additional Great Valentine Card and Postcard References - Available from Amazon.com

If you're a collector, the internet is probably you're best friend when you want to look something up. But, quite frankly, you need references that you can take with you when you're out scouting for those elusive cards. Sure, your iPad may suffice, but you can't highlight, dog ear it, whip it out and turn right to the page you need...you get the idea...

If you can't get your hands on the book above, the first four books below will be of great help to you. They're in the order of our preference for usefulness. The 5th book? Well, it's just for fun!

Valentines, A Collector's Guide, 1700s - 1950s, Identification & Values
Valentines, A Collector's Guide, 1700s - 1950s, Identification & Values

2010 - Valentines, A Collector's Guide, 1700s - 1950s, is a thorough reference for accurately dating and identifying valentines. The book's dating system uses nearly 1,300 photographed cards arranged in chronological order based on extensive research. Besides the visual arrangement, collectors will find researched lists of design trends, card subjects illustrated, and important publishers for each decade and for each different type of card. These key facts placed at the fingertips of the collector make dating and identification easy, accurate, and enjoyable. Illustrated valentines include those by anonymous and early makers from the United States, Germany, Great Britain, and Canada. Feast your eyes on lacy Victorian valentines, romantic couples, adorable children, hearts, flowers, whimsical mechanicals, dimensional tissue paper cards, sarcastic vinegar valentines, and dimensional fold down cards. Beyond the illustrated valentines, lists of non-illustrated cards by more contemporary manufacturers are compiled so collectors can identify way beyond what is illustrated. Enjoy these sentimental, entertaining tokens of love and affection in a clear, easy to understand presentation that will be an indispensable reference for anyone who loves and wants to date and identify their valentines. 2011 values.

 
One Hundred Years of Valentines (Schiffer Design Books)
One Hundred Years of Valentines (Schiffer Design Books)

1999 - One Hundred Years of Valentines is a photographic essay. This book, a must for the collector or dealer, showcases over 450 valentine's cards from the late 1800s up until 1998. This comprehensive book includes: the Depression, dimensional, Art Deco, transportation, artist signed, honey comb paper puff, novelty, etc., along with an extensive glossary of valentine terms, the "Second Top 10 Most Asked Questions," and a Usage Guide. Valuable information helps collectors/dealers identify and evalute their cards.

 
Valentines for the Eclectic Collector
Valentines for the Eclectic Collector

2007 - This volume presents the eclectic side of Valentine collecting, special categories, from party favors to paper dolls to brand-name advertising on hundreds of Valentine cards. The author discusses Novelties, OEAs (Other Ephemeral Artifacts), and Postcards in her usual enthusiastic style. Kreider offers hints on collecting for love and for value. If you want to know all about eclectic Valentines in the market place and in your collections, make sure you read the documentation carefully. All the photographs are in color; captions include price guides.

 
Greetings With Love: The Book of Valentines (Architecture S)
Greetings With Love: The Book of Valentines (Architecture S)

2003 - Delicate lace. Antique cupids. Cherubic children. Whimsical rhymes. Ancient romances. This delightful compendium brings together over 200 vintage valentines, each with its own unique history. Greetings with Love: The Book of Valentines also includes fascinating historical anecdotes about Valentine's Day, along with an eclectic anthology of fun facts, tasty recipes, interesting folklore, romantic poems, and creative crafts. Michele Karl, an avid collector, has authored numerous books on memorabilia.

 

Please, feel free to share your stories of your greatest finds...and, if you care to, you're collectible heartbreaks.

Are You a Vintage Valentine Collector?

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    • NibsyNell profile image

      NibsyNell 4 years ago

      Such a unique and fascinating lens!

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 5 years ago from United States

      I never meant to be a vintage valentine collector, but I do have a few valentine cards saved from when I was younger.

    • profile image

      EnjoyLens 5 years ago

      Very nice lens! Well done

    • KittySmith profile image

      KittySmith 5 years ago

      I found an old valentine my dad had gotten for my mother. I did not think about preserving it before, I will have to find it and store it properly. Nice lens.

    • fugeecat lm profile image

      fugeecat lm 5 years ago

      The valentine's are wonderful. I'm glad you showed the zipauction site.

    • LiteraryMind profile image

      Ellen Gregory 5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Very pretty selection of cards -- good info.

    • profile image

      RuralFloridaLiving 5 years ago

      Not intentionally, but I do love them. My grandmother collected them and I still have her scrapbook, so I guess I do collect...just not actively. Wonderful lens. Thanks for the info.