Vintage Valentine's Day cards are so cute. I came across several going through my mother in law’s estate that belonged to my husband, Jimmy. It made me nostalgic and I remembered the cute cards I swapped in elementary school. Wanting to share the found Valentines Day Cards in my etsy shop I needed to do some research. What I learned was that since the mid-19th century, people have exchanged greeting cards in celebration of Valentine's Day. Surprisingly many of these cards still exist. To my surprise they were different styles, and they can also be surprisingly valuable! I have listed in my blog here several that are available in our Etsy shop. Few of them have sold already.
Each era had its own themes and styles, and collectors often choose to focus their efforts on one particular time period or motif.
Understanding the hallmarks of various eras can help you choose a specific type of card to collect or figure out how old your valentine card is.
It was in 1850 that the custom of exchanging valentines truly took off. A woman named Esther Howland began a very successful business producing Valentine's Day cards. People in England and the United States also made cards to give to their sweethearts.
Here is the breakdown of themes and styles in greeting cards from times before:
Early Victorian Valentines: 1850 to 1880
Greetings with die-cut paper lace and fabric lace
Pieces of silk fabric and ribbon on cards
Valentines with flowers and leaves made of silk or paper
Cards with hand-painted designs
Cards with flaps that could be lifted
Later Victorian Valentines: 1880s Through 1900
During this period, valentines became easier to mass produce. Lithographed cards were all the rage during this period. The cards were comparatively inexpensive, and there are more of these cards in existence. Cards from the late-Victorian era often feature these motifs and materials:
Color lithography printing on cards
Postcards and cards that could be opened
Cards with hearts, birds, cherubs, and flowers
Pop-up cards with honeycomb paper inside
Early 20th Century Valentines: 1900s Through the 1930s
This era saw a departure from the traditional rectangular or fan-shaped card. Valentine art became more detailed and varied, resulting in some surprising and fun themes and styles:
Printed cards in the shape of children, animals, and objects
Cards featuring modern inventions, such as radios, telephones, and airplanes
Valentines printed with movie stars from the era, such as Jean Harlow
Greetings with timely themes like women's voting rights, World War I, and changing fashions
Cards with clever puns on common words
Fewer greetings featuring dimensional elements like pop-ups
Mid-20th Century Valentines: 1940s Through the 1960s
In the mid-20th century, there was a surge in valentines featuring cars and other vehicles. In addition, you can expect to see some of the following elements in Valentine's Day greetings from this era:
Cards featuring references to World War II, Nazis, dictators, and other war-related themes
Valentines with space travel images
Cards referencing separation from a loved one
Full-color greetings with animals and children
Mechanical cards that moved when you pulled or pushed on a part
Cards from noted manufacturers like Hallmark and American Greetings
There you have it. Hope this information helps you identify from which period that cute valentines day card you own is. The ones we have in our shop are mid century, the last group identified. Precious.
Whether you are creating a large collection or simply want to enjoy one or two of these unique greeting cards, there's plenty to love about Valentine's Day cards from years past. Many available in our My40YearCollection and other Etsy shops.
Thanks for reading, feel free to reach out and ask any questions!