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Trivia History: Greeting Cards and 1800s Women

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Illustrated poem from This aged page is from the October 1885 issue of St. Nicholas Magazine.

Old Fashioned October Poem and Illustration
Credit: http://olddesignshop.com/2013/10/old-fashioned-october-poem-free-download/

Valentine's Day is referenced all the way back to ancient Rome when it was a pagan holiday. However, historians tell us that modern Valentine’s Day celebrations gained interesting contributions from women of all social classes living in America and England during the Victorian Era. From creating a nationwide postal system that made sending postcards cheap to defining the types of paper Valentine's we give today, we have Victorian women to thank.

Corrupting Victorian Women with Valentine's

During Victorian times, the idea of women being concerned with the topic of love brought discomfort to popular moralists of the day.  During the Victorian Era, the Industrial Revolution blossomed and quickly changed the workforce.  This economic change also created the middle class in England.  Along with this, many texts were written that discussed how the middle class should behave.  Of primary importance was ensuring women were virgins when they married and were faithful to their spouses. 

Critics argued that Valentine’s Day focus would promote Victorian women to value passion and other sexual ideas that were thought to be counterproductive to supporting an industrialized man. Despite this, the Valentine's Day greeting industry thrived throughout the Victorian Era largely with the help of women.

Paper Valentine's Corrected Victorian Women's Lack of Education

Throughout the Victorian Era, women were included in education reforms.  In spite of this, many English women of all classes during that time were illiterate.  While they were sent a strong message that a good Victorian woman is never interested in love, Valentine’s Day tokens were still being promoted.  Mainly, Victorian women were encouraged by advice manuals like the “Working Man’s Wife,” published in 1844, to give Valentine’s gestures to potential love interests.  This set the stage for a market for Valentine’s cards with pre-printed poems or verses because they were ideal for illiterate lower-class and middle-class Victorian women to give to men.

Queen Victoria Role in the Rise of Valentine's Day Card Exchanges

While Valentine’s Day cards were popular in England before Queen Victoria’s reign, they were expensive to create and deliver.  A big change in the Valentine’s Day card industry occurred when Queen Victoria instituted a nationwide post office for England in 1840. Citizens now had a chance to send mail for an inexpensive pre-determined amount.  When the first post office opened, many Valentine’s were still handmade, but this would soon change.  

Trends in Victorian Women's paper Valentine's

The early history of printed graphic designs involved either hand-painting or using wood block printing.  As the printing press became more popular, metal engravings were used.  In some cases, the printed engravings were hand-painted to give it color.  The next invention that lead up to the type of Valentine’s primarily used by Victorian women were decorated writing papers.  Before color-printed mass-produced cards and post cards, decorated writing papers dominated the market throughout the 1800’s. 

The First Greeting Cards and Mass-produced Valentine's

Around 1860, America and England started mailing the forerunner of the postcard called Lipman’s Postal Cards.  These machine-printed cards were being distributed starting as early as 1862 in Philadelphia.  Previously, since 1840, Esther Howland of Massachusetts was making handmade Valentine’s Day cards that sold for as much as $50. 

Around 1870, advances in color lithography color printing meant the industry was ready to start making low-cost, mass-produced Valentine’s Day cards.  In modern times the trend continues, and it is estimated that over 1 billion Valentine's Day cards are purchased annually with 85 percent of all sales made by women.

 

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