H&A blogger Sarah-Jane Hosegood runs the weekly Twitter vintage networking event #vintagefindhour. In her blog for H&A she writes about her most recent finds, fair experiences and tales of the interesting folk she meets along the way. This month she discovers the oldest Valentine’s cards are often the best…
Keeping cosy on a cold February evening, roasting marshmallows by the fire, my thoughts drifted to St Valentine’s Day and how I will mark the occasion.
Shops are lined with the same, rather predictable offerings: mugs, chocolates, squishy teddy bears and key rings. How to find something unique?
Being a vintage addict, I lit upon the idea of charming Victorian card designs where cherubic cupids float above love hearts decorated with bows and swags. Somewhat kitsch, they are still a fantastic testament to a bygone era of chivalry when dashing gents placed coats on to puddles for sweethearts to safely step across in their dainty petticoats.
A little research revealed that Valentine’s Day dates as far back as Ancient Rome when 12th, 13th and 14th February were celebrated as ‘Lupercalia’, a pagan fertility festival. It was much later, in 1415, that things became more romantic when Frenchman Charles, Duke of Orleans, penned the first recorded Valentine’s note to his sweetheart while imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture during the Battle of Agincourt. An accomplished poet, he wrote more than 500 poems during his 25 years of imprisonment, mostly declarations of love.
The tradition of writing Valentine’s cards swept across England and other western countries in the 16th and 17th centuries. Early examples were made of lace and paper with intricate designs that could take days to make. By the mid-19th century, factories were mass-producing pretty cards and the ‘penny post’ service meant sending anonymous letters became possible.
The early commercial cards were printed on embossed paper. Some featured tiny mirrors with the messages such as ‘look at my beloved’ while others had a flap that when lifted by a tassel revealed a pretty cobweb effect with a romantic message or picture beneath. The very first Victorian cards were hand-produced using honeycombed tissue, embossed gold hearts, high quality lace, watercolours and some with the addition of silks and feathers.
Many of the later mass-produced examples have survived to this day and you can come across exquisite examples for sale online, from as little as £5.
There is something of a revival of these sweet vintage designs at the moment with artisans handmaking unique cards and keepsakes using vintage materials, which make for pretty pieces of wall art when framed. With a wealth of these online at etsy.com, there is no excuse for the last minute petrol station purchase!
I have gleaned other ideas for Valentine’s from my wonderfully eclectic #vintagefindhour friends. Some specialise in vintage jewellery such as mother and daughter team @cloud_jewellery who offer pre-loved pieces at fantastic prices and also founded #bringbackthebrooch – an attempt to revive this underworn piece of jewellery. View their latest finds on their Facebook page.
As well as selling treasures via her Twitter account, another #vintagefindhour friend Tracey (@Sparkletrove) also provides a useful sourcing service if you are on the lookout for something specific in colour and style.
With all this talk of romance, I think I may have fallen in love myself. One of the messages I found while searching for antique cards was, ‘My life has been a task of love, one long, long thought of thee.’ Who could resist that?
Join the discussion by tweeting Sarah-Jane at @vintagehomeshop or join in the #vintagefindhour live chat on Wednesdays at 8pm. This Wednesday is a #vintagevalentine special.