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My Tips for Collecting and Displaying Vintage Valentines

Updated on January 25, 2018
Virginia Allain profile image

Collecting has been a lifelong passion for Virginia and her collections range from ephemera to tins and Hall china.

I find the old graphics on valentine's so sweet. A good example is this little girl with her frilly dress.
I find the old graphics on valentine's so sweet. A good example is this little girl with her frilly dress. | Source

I Love Old Valentines

It's easy to start collecting old valentines. There is a huge variety of antique and more recent valentines available for the collector. The photo on the left shows some of my collection.

If you have an affinity for vintage bits and pieces of paper, are drawn to colorful lithographs and antique advertising pieces, think about collecting valentines. Old valentines contain all the color, delightful art, history and entertaining verses that one could possibly want. Who can resist:

"Forget-me-not sweet Valentine,

My hand and heart are ever thine."

Here are ways to develop a vintage valentine collection without going broke.

Image available from Zazzle:Little Girl with Hearts by artistjillian

Get Started Collecting Valentines

Most antique shops have a stash of them. Possibly they are under the counter or in a shoe box or a photo album. Search for the colorful cards at estate sales and flea markets too.

To start your collection inexpensively, ask older family members if they save cards and letters. Chances are some valentines are sprinkled in with other memorabilia tucked away in a box or drawer. They may be willing to part with the ones lacking major sentimental ties.

Here are places that people found valentines.

  • SheGetsCreative - "I have a few that are pre-1910 that I treasure. Bought 'em at a yard sale for 10 cents each along with a huge box of antique postcards. I was hooked from then on!"
  • A friend from Kansas says, "They do make a very interesting collectible. I bought a book once at an auction, that had been tied with string that appeared to be decades old. Inside the book was a stampless cover, and inside the cover was a very old valentine from some time in the 1800s. Still have it."
  • MartieG commented, "Love these old Valentines - I have one from the early 1900's that my great uncle wrote to his mother and it is really amazing."

How Long Have You Collected Valentines

Vote in the Poll

See results
Sample vintage valentines from my own collection.
Sample vintage valentines from my own collection. | Source

My Valentine Collection

To show all my valentines, I had to spread them out on the floor.
To show all my valentines, I had to spread them out on the floor. | Source

Video Slideshow of Vintage Valentine Postcards

Another Source for Vintage Valentines

Contact retired school teachers and offer to buy their accumulation. A teacher probably receives thousands of valentines over the years.

A Collector's Guide Covering the 1700s to the 1950s

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

336 pages so you'll find lots of photos of valentines and prices for them. As with any antiques price guide, check the date and mentally adjust the prices for market trends up or down over the past years.

 

Different Types of Valentines to Collect

Antique Lacy Valentines

Lacy Antique Valentines from my collection.
Lacy Antique Valentines from my collection. | Source

Choosing a Category to Specialize in

Lacy Valentines, honeycomb Valentines, or even Insult Valentines

You may find yourself drawn to certain categories of valentines such as the ones with moveable parts, ones with honeycombs that open, or the distinctive art of Ernest Nister (printed in Bavaria) cards. Some collectors focus on certain periods (1930s or 1940s) or humorous insult valentines. Others like valentine postcards or search out a specific design like cherubs or swans.

After awhile you may develop an expensive taste for lacy cards from the 1800s. Once you find a category to specialize in, keep the focus on those to develop a finer collection.

(photo of my own collection of valentines)

An Example of a Mechanical Valentine

There's Even a Category of Valentines Called Black Americana - See Examples of These on eBay

Be aware that some of these show racist stereotypes of bygone days, but they make an interesting collectible. Some people collect them as a historical representation of attitudes in earlier eras. Others just look for cute ones.

Example of a Black Americana Valentine from My Collection

Dated 1935. Cute graphic, but I'm sure the cotton picking theme which harkens back to slavery days make this totally unacceptable.
Dated 1935. Cute graphic, but I'm sure the cotton picking theme which harkens back to slavery days make this totally unacceptable.

Here's an Example of These

A vinegar valentine or insult one from the 1940s. The paper is flimsy quality due to wartime restrictions.
A vinegar valentine or insult one from the 1940s. The paper is flimsy quality due to wartime restrictions. | Source

Insult Valentines

Usually, you think of valentines as sweet and lovely, but there's a special type called Insult Valentines or Vinegar Valentines. I collect valentines and many years ago found a whole album of these.

Above is an example of these. It's printed on really cheap paper and probably dates from the late 1920s or the 1930s.

The Kovels newsletter advised against collecting these as an investment, "Avoid the inexpensive single sheet 'penny dreadfuls.' They are insulting comic valentines from the 1920—very inexpensive but hard to sell."

It appears that you give these to people you don't like, rather than to your sweetie. This example says, "TIN HORN SPORT - A dime is the limit when you've got a date, after the big talk with which you fill 'er, you've dough in your socks, but you low darn heel, you're just as cheap as that ten cent thriller. "

Even in the 1920s, a movie cost about a quarter, so the 10 cent thriller mentioned in this vinegar valentine must have been the cheap afternoon rerun.

These were usually given anonymously and targeted the faults and failings of the recipient.

Example of Valentines for the Military in World War II

Ah, romance in the WWII era!
Ah, romance in the WWII era! | Source

WWII Valentines

Card available from Zazzle: Retro US Military Valentine's Day Card by golden_oldies.

The artwork on this card leaves no doubt what era it was distributed in, the 1940s.

Some Collectors Focus on Early Valentine Postcards

A postcard Valentine in my collection.
A postcard Valentine in my collection. | Source

Vintage Valentine Postcards - Enjoy this short video on YouTube that shows many old valentines.

Taking Care of Your Valentine Collection

Archival Quality Storage for the Vintage Valentine Collector

Don't store your valentines in an old cardboard shoebox. Get an archival quality box that won't interact in a negative way with the old paper or cardboard in the valentines.

Put the box in a climate controlled area. This means don't keep it in the attic, the garage or the basement. Those areas tend to be too hot or too damp or too cold. The temperature fluctuations can make the glue let go and pieces may fall apart. Dampness encourages mold to form on paper.

Protective Sleeves for Your Best Valentines

ALVIN Prestige AA1418-6 Archival Print Protector (14" x 18")
ALVIN Prestige AA1418-6 Archival Print Protector (14" x 18")

Look for the words "archival" when preparing your valentine collection for storage.

 

Storing Them

To treat your valentines right, store them in acid free containers. These are more widely available now with the popularity of scrap booking. Look for the words, "acid free" or "archival quality" on the labels. Don't store them in a hot attic or garage or a damp basement. Besides the temperature issues, those areas might harbor silverfish that love to feast on old paper. They nibble little trails through your precious collection.

Archival Storage Box

Pioneer Jumbo Scrapbook Storage Box, Red
Pioneer Jumbo Scrapbook Storage Box, Red

How fitting, a red box to store the valentines in. It's better to have several boxes so you don't crowd the valentines. Don't squash the delicate ones by stacking others on top of them. Don't let the lacy ones get tangled together.

You can put a layer of archival quality tissue paper between each valentine to protect it. Put the box where there is climate control so it isn't affected by extremes of heat or cold or humidity.

 

Show Off Your Valentine Collection

I feature my valentines on the entertainment unit shelves each February.
I feature my valentines on the entertainment unit shelves each February. | Source

Make Displays of Your Valentines

Every February it is a treat to bring out the valentines and savor once again their unique designs. Share your collection with others by displaying them at a local museum or library. Avoid display areas near a window. Direct sunlight will fade and even warp the paper and cardboard pieces. Sometimes an individual viewing the display will offer to give you valentines they have saved.

I use clear plastic photo stands to display some and lay others down. Make sure the more fragile ones are positioned so they are not stressed by gravity.

Clear Display Stands for Displaying Antique Valentines

Be sure to place very fragile valentines in a way that there is no stress on the lace or the movable parts.

Display Stand to Hold a Valentine Upright

Wide Plastic Display Stand (4 Pack) cs4
Wide Plastic Display Stand (4 Pack) cs4

This display stand holds an antique valentine at a slight slant so it displays well.

 

Trading Up or Selling Your Valentines

Think about making your collection pay for itself. Trade or sell some of the items you are less attached to raise funds to indulge in top level cards.

By joining the national association, you get an informative newsletter and the opportunity to participate in their quarterly valentine auctions. Some years back I used their auction to sell a scrapbook of vinegar valentines. My taste was more for the cute or lacy ones, so I decided not to keep the scrapbook. It sold in the auction for $200.

National Valentine Collectors' Association

P.O. Box 647

Franklin Lakes, NJ 07417

201-337-5834

info@valentinecollectors.com

Valentines can be sold on eBay or Etsy. I suggest putting them in groups by type.

Their webpage includes the results from their quarterly auctions plus a sample newsletter (7 pages) for you to read.

How Old Is This Valentine?

Here are dated cards from my collection. Look at the styles and match yours to one of these.

You can also look in books of Valentine history to help date items in your collection.

This One Is Dated on the Back - February 14, 1886

This has a verse inside and multi-layered frou-frou on the outside. Tabs in between each layer, raise those for a lovely effect.
This has a verse inside and multi-layered frou-frou on the outside. Tabs in between each layer, raise those for a lovely effect. | Source

The Back of the Old Valentine

It's obvious from the ink and style of handwriting that the date is original to the time of the card.
It's obvious from the ink and style of handwriting that the date is original to the time of the card. | Source

Lacy Valentine Art from the 1800s

This is the oldest valentine in my collection. On the back, in old-style handwriting is the date 1886. It's typical of the taste for that time, the Victorian era.

What was happening in 1886, the year that this Valentine was presented to someone's sweetheart? Grover Cleveland was president. Coca-Cola was invented. Geronimo surrendered in Arizona to end the Indian Wars. This time was also called the Gilded Age.

This Valentine features elaborate floral designs, includes embossing, a number of layers with small tabs to raise them up, lots of gold, and a fancy sawtooth edge. I hope the romance prospered after this token of affection was given.

A 1910 Card

This fold-out valentine from my collection has 1910 written in old handwriting on the back.  Quite elaborate, isn't it!
This fold-out valentine from my collection has 1910 written in old handwriting on the back. Quite elaborate, isn't it! | Source

A 1928 Card

1928 is the date on the back of this one. Cute accordian graphic, "The same old wheeze" Note how this era is much less fancy and many are light-hearted. School classmates exchanged cards like this.
1928 is the date on the back of this one. Cute accordian graphic, "The same old wheeze" Note how this era is much less fancy and many are light-hearted. School classmates exchanged cards like this. | Source

One Hundred Years of Valentines

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

Not just a book of pretty pictures, this contains lots of information for the serious collector. This gives you guidelines on dating and placing a dollar value on your collectibles.

 

© 2009 Virginia Allain

What Do You Collect?

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    • Celebrates profile image

      Celebrates 

      3 years ago

      This is an amazing collection of vintage Valentine's Day cards. These are some of the best I have ever seen. The artwork is great.

    • Lee Hansen profile image

      Lee Hansen 

      3 years ago from Vermont

      I love vintage Valentines and any retro graphics. I've seen a few of these designs before but had not heard of "vinegar Valentines" until today. Perfect for anti-V folks, even today.

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 

      3 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      I love these old Valentines, too. The graphics are wonderful and so sweet.

    • Lorelei Cohen profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 

      4 years ago from Canada

      Absolutely a delight to visit. I loved seeing your collection of vintage valentine cards. This article left me feeling warm and loved. Beautiful.

    • paulahite profile image

      Paula Hite 

      4 years ago from Virginia

      Sweet lens. I have some vintage cards at home that I love, as well as Thanksgiving and Christmas.

    • Virginia Allain profile imageAUTHOR

      Virginia Allain 

      5 years ago from Central Florida

      @FanfrelucheHubs: I have one in my collection and am a bit embarrassed to display it. You are right that they are quite collectible.

    • FanfrelucheHubs profile image

      Nathalie Roy 

      5 years ago from France (Canadian expat)

      The Black Americana Valentine cards must be quite collectible, if I am not mistaken, Black Americana stuff is usually going quite well on auction.

    • rayray131 profile image

      rayray131 

      6 years ago

      I collect pretty much anything thats old, including postcards.

    • Pam Irie profile image

      Pam Irie 

      6 years ago from Land of Aloha

      I especially love the vintage valentine cards geared for the military. Charming and innocent, weren't they? :)

    • Winter52 LM profile image

      Winter52 LM 

      6 years ago

      How pretty are these!! I still remember the school parties and all the valentines that would be dropped in our individual boxes... what memories. Thanks for that. :)

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 

      6 years ago

      Ah, just came from another vintage valentine's page ... with the sentiment ... nothing better than giving a vintage valentine to a vintage person who really would appreciate it. Happy Backwards Day! (; !raed ym uoy ot sgnisselB

    • Nancy Hardin profile image

      Nancy Carol Brown Hardin 

      6 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      HA! I collect too many things! I collect mouse figurines, pug items, McCoy Pottery and Daher Designed tins. At this stage of the game, I'm not going to begin collecting anything else...but these vintage Valentines sure do take my notice! Blessed.

    • Richard-H profile image

      Richard 

      6 years ago from Surrey, United Kingdom

      I don't believe it's such a big thing over in the UK, but I can certainly understand the collectible nature of vintage Valentines.

    • gottaloveit2 profile image

      gottaloveit2 

      7 years ago

      I have one of the first Valentine's my dad gave my mom. They'd dated a year and he signed it "Love, Joe Burdoo." He didn't know how many Joe's she knew. Is that funny, or what??

    • priscillab profile image

      priscillab 

      7 years ago

      I absolutely adore Victorian valentines. This lens is full of beautiful pictures. Thanks for sharing your love and collection!! This is why I love Valentine's Day!

    • NHgal LM profile image

      NHgal LM 

      7 years ago

      I love your lens. Thankyou for making it. Unfortunately, having moved and downsized several times in past few years, my old valentines didn't survive. Nice seeing yours.

    • jolou profile image

      jolou 

      7 years ago

      I love anything Victorian. It seems especially nice for Valentines cards and gifts. You have some lovely ones here.

    • profile image

      KaraLynnRussell 

      7 years ago

      I never thought of collecting vintage Valentines, but it sounds like a good idea to me. The art is beautiful and room for storage is much less of a problem than for a collection of antique furniture or books.

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 

      7 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      I love vintage Valentine's. Nice wrap up of all things Valentine!

    • SandyMertens profile image

      Sandy Mertens 

      7 years ago from Frozen Tundra

      I love everything vintage. These Valentines are beautiful!

    • KathyMcGraw2 profile image

      Kathy McGraw 

      7 years ago from California

      I love Vintage Valentines...and you have some good tips here. Blessed by an Angel :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      7 years ago

      I always enjoy looking through my baby book and seeing the vintage birthday and Valentines cards. This is just sweet and nicely done. I love the music and images on the video!

    • mbgphoto profile image

      Mary Beth Granger 

      7 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

      Interesting lens...I never would have thought of collecting Valentines.

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      7 years ago

      It's so wonderful and lovely vintage collectible lens for Valentine's day. I really love them all. 5 vintage loving stars for you :)

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