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Comic Valentines

Although Valentine's Day and the sending of love messages associated with it have roots in antiquity, the exchange of comic valentines originated in the United States. These valentines were particularly popular from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s and are still available today along with traditional greetings. The Omaha Daily Bee on February 14, 1876, editorialized on the increasing popularity of the comic valentine at the expense of the sentimental variety and (inaccurately) predicted the demise of both:

"The time when the most delicate expression of a young man's admiration for a young lady lay in sending her once a year an expensive and elegant valentine to express his sentiments of tender love for her, has nearly passed, and costly missives of this character are almost numbered among the things that were. . . . The sentimental valentine has almost dwindled into a tradition. Nobody sends it, excepting fools and children, and perhaps a few old bachelors, who are to be placed somewhere between the two. The only kind of valentine which to-day has solid existence is the comic one. That still holds place because of the opportunity it provides to malice, satire and ridicule.

"If we could obtain correct statistics of purchasers we should perhaps find that not a few adults employ this ingenious method of venting their vindictiveness. Decency forbids that Jones should tell Smith to his face that he is a common drunkard, but it cannot prevent him mailing him a valentine representing him with a very red nose and an empty brandy bottle. The sweet amenities of life render it impossible for Mr. Snob to taunt Jenks with having had a mother who took in washing; but it is eminently admissible for Snob to send Jenks some anonymous rhymes about soapsuds, accompanied with a highly colored illustration representing the old lady Jenks over the tub. Mr. Smithers does not want to inform his landlady that her terms are high and living low; but he can send her, without detection, some satirical verses on hash, which will be a superb indemnification for the punctual payment she injuriously insists upon. . . .

"St. Valentine's day is, then, an annual escape-valve for the malice and uncharitableness of close acquaintances. It affords one an easy method of wounding our neighbor's sensibilities without being found out. Yet even in this respect it is steadily on the decline, and ere long must take its place among the ghosts of dead institutions, and it is a ghost which no one need materialize and make tangible again. It has had its golden hours and has contributed in bygone times to the smiles and blushes and happy tears of innocent maidens and susceptible spinsters. Its sentimental side has too much of gushing simplicity and ingenuousness to suit this rattling locomotive age."

(February 2006)



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Last updated 23 January 2006

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