While modern mass-produced Valentine’s Day cards generally offer little more than a standard greeting and a few words of affection, the first Valentine’s were ornate, handmade treasures filled with verses of poetry and sentimental notions. The road from romance to commercialization has been a long one.
The oldest known Valentine in existence was written by Charles, Duke Orleans to his wife in 1415. At the time he was locked in the Tower of London, after being captured at the Battle of Agincourt. A few years later King Henry V hired a writer to compose a valentine note to Catherine of Valios, his future wife.
A few hundred years later, around the mid-18th century, it became common for friends and lovers in Great Britain, no matter their social class, to exchange notes and small tokens of affection on Valentine’s Day. The 14th of February had been established as St. Valentine’s Day a few centuries earlier by the church in order to detract from a pagan festival that took place from February 13-15. Exchanged cards were incredibly elaborate, often featuring lace, a sacred heart and an angel, today’s Valentine heart and Cupid. For those who couldn’t write their own poetry, Valentine’s Day writers were sold. These books included preformed verses that were to be written onto decorative paper. With the improvements in the technology of printing and the lessening of postage rates, ready-made cards became more popular, as did the tradition of sending anonymous Valentine cards.
The first mass-produced Valentine’s Day card in America was made in 1850 by Esther A. Howland. Her cards were made from lace paper, following the same techniques being used in Europe at the time. These cards were blank on the inside, allowing for a personalized message from the sender. Larger companies quickly followed Howland’s lead after realizing there was money to be made; Howland made an astonishing $5,000 during her first year of card production. And the rest is history, as they say.
So this year, instead of sending your loved ones a mass-produced Valentine, consider taking a page from the old romantics and creating your own card. We’ve got a template you can follow, or you can use it as inspiration for your own design. For added inspiration, Valentine’s Day items are currently 15% off. This sale runs until 9am (PST) on Thursday, January 28, 2010.