Urban Archeologist: Valentines – the Good, the Bad, and the Old

What a way to woo.


I was hoping to have the story of Valentine's Day all wrapped up in a nice neat package, but its origins are murky and somewhat of a mystery. The most common belief is that in the time of the Romans, it was believed that young single men made the best warriors and because of this, youthful marriage was outlawed. A priest named Valentine was imprisoned for continuing to perform marriage ceremonies for these young warriors and was executed.

There are many theories about how Valentine's Day started. Maybe someone was late getting home one night, or stared a little too long at their wife's friend?  I'm not drawing from experience, I am only thinking of Valentines that might be closer to reality. Now, if there were only a card for, “Honey, I love that you let me stay up all night blogging” — now, that I could use.

Actually, couples have been passing each other greetings of love for a long long time — not just since 5th grade. The earliest written love greeting is in a British museum and has been dated from the 1400s. The not-so-surprising part is that it doesn't say, “Happy Valentine's Day, February 14.” 

There is no clear evidence establishing when February 14 became the actual day, but religious tradition and mythology places a celebration of feast and affection around the “ides” or 15th of February. The middle ages seem to be when greetings began to circulate though not necessarily at the urging of greeting card manufacturers.

I have uncovered cards among the collections of papers I have purchased over the years. Those displayed above are a cross-section of the more “interesting.” The farm girl card is probably the worst, I don't know if the cardmaker failed at achieving the “come-hither” look or maybe she is supposed to be homely on purpose, or maybe beauty is in the eye of the card holder.

My favorites are the selection of three small calling cards that have a Valentine-type greeting on each. These were obviously meant to be handed to ladies to be remembered to. These date from around 1897. 

The last card is also from the same time period, yet with no makers marks, so I am asking readers to lend me a hand researching these. Who were the artists behind these 19th century cards?

Liberty magazine covers are very collectable and this one seemed to match the theme of the holiday. On the reverse side was an ad for a cigarette brand I've never heard of. Can you identify the brand and the secret ingredient in the latest ad quiz?

Greg Van Antwerp is a Brookfield resident and blogger, who can be found on the weekends in search of a good “dig” or a good story. You can read more about his adventures by visiting his blog.


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