The Rise and Fall of Valentine Design


Valentines Day is a very interesting holiday, mainly due to the fact that people either love it, or hate it. The biggest complaint about this holiday seems to be the commercialism that has risen up behind it. It’s been called a “Hallmark Holiday,” an “FTD Fete” and a “Sees Celebration.” On the other hand, many people enjoy being reminded of how the people in their lives feel about them, commercialism or not. So how did we get here? And just what is a valentine anyway?

Valentines were first seen in the early 1400s, thanks to Charles, Duke of Orleans, who wrote romantic verses for his wife while imprisoned in the Tower of London after the Battle of Agincourt. In the 1500s, paper valentines started to be exchanged, particularly in England. By the 1700s, valentine cards were commonplace. By the end of this century, “The Young Man’s Valentine Writer” was published, which contained romantic prose for the suitor looking for just the right thing to say to his adored.

By the mid 1800s, paper valentines were mass produced in America by Ester A. Howland. These valentines were created with lace, ribbons, pictures and hand-colored by factory workers. It was also during this time that the postal service started the “penny post,” which made sending valentines more affordable, as postage was wildly expensive.

Thanks to the birth of the modern factory, commercialism was quick to claim Valentines Day for its own. By the mid 20th century, people started exchanging gifts rather than simply cards. Roses, chocolates, stuffed animals and jewelry remain popular staples for expressing one’s love.

Here’s a look at types of Valentines Cards that developed over the years:

Howland Cards (mid-1800s)


Mechanical/Moving Cards (1840s)


Civil War Cards/Window Cards - sent to soldiers by wives, families (1860s)


Sailor Valentines - made with seashells and found objects by sailors at sea (mid 1800s - 1900s)


Vinegar Valentines - ie. Insult Cards (Mid 1800s)


Love Notes - banned due to uncanny likeness to actual currency (mid 1800s)


Embossed/Foiled Postcards (early 1900s)


Lollipop Cards (1930s)


Children’s Valentines (1940s)


Valentines today


The Valentines of today bear a closer resemblance to direct mail campaigns than they do to the sweet sentiments of the past, and Disney seems to have licensed the entire holiday. But all is not yet lost. With a surging handmade movement well underway in our country and abroad, and a booming Valentine scene on Etsy, there are glimmers of hope that we may reclaim the day for homemade paper hearts.

Of course - and maybe I’m just a romantic at heart - the best valentines are always handmade ones.

Happy Valentines Day!

Erin Behrenhausen

Erin Behrenhausen is Art Director for Carbon8, and has over 15 years of experience as a designer in the Denver area. Erin is passionate about strong, clean design that creates an emotional impact, and believes that typography and balance are the foundation of good design.

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