Victorian Valentines

by Robert Brenner

 

Three-Dimensional Cards Captivate Americans

 Excerpt from the book:
"Valentine Treasury- A Century of Valentine Cards"

 

Victorian ValentineIf there is one card which attracts collectors' interests, it is the three-dimensional fold-out (mechanical in nature) valentine produced for countless years. The earliest were produced in Germany and England, with Germany quickly capturing the American market with countless examples ranging in size from two inches to cards which exceed fourteen inches in height and width. Prices ranged from five cents to one dollar. Their scarcity lies in the fact that they were manufactured from inexpensive pasteboard (layers of thin paper glued together) and countless layers held together by thin paper tabs which quickly broke and became unglued. Once broken, many of them were discarded. Also ephemeral in nature, they were doomed to a quick demise by many who just simply discarded them soon after Valentine's Day.

 
Valentine Card

English mechanical, 2"X8" pull-down Victorian Valentine card with tabs which reveals intricate garden scene. Value: $95-120.

 

Fold-outs from the 1890s to the early 1900s consisting of four or more layers of heavy paper board ingeniously connected by pull-like hinges are very desirable today. When pulled gently forward from the base, these creations assume a three-dimensional stand-up position. These multi-layered valentines, with the various layers hinged by carefully camouflaged tabs, varied widely in format and theme. Nevertheless, they were most always sentimental in theme. Pink-cheeked cherubs nestled among pillows of satin and lace, holding baskets of lilacs; lovers gazed limpidly at one another from garden bowers, or glided among nameless waterways on garlanded and ribboned sailing vessels, or somewhat later, in open touring cars. In pristine condition, the larger types are a spectacle to behold when displayed. Often too large, and actually almost too fragile to send safely through the mail, most were simply slipped into plain, unadorned envelopes and hand delivered. Until the start of World War I, these creations actually revitalized an industry which was somewhat waning.

 
Valentine Card

Heavy cardboard Victorian Valentine with deeply embossed flowers, 3"X4" pull-down with pink carnations. Value: $50-60.

 
Valentine Card
Rich embossed gold backing incorporated in 5X11" marked "German" pull-down Victorian Valentine . Value: $45-60
 

Often times, they were preserved and placed on parlor tables. But the majority of them were glued into albums due to the fad for albums which swept Europe and America in the 1870s after the Civil War. Scrapbooks arrived in the late 1860s around the same time that the mass production of scraps had started in Germany. Scrapbooks provided a convenient way to see and handle these beautiful cards. The first scrapbooks were more like notebooks, small and fairly indistinguishable from any other blank book. Gradually these albums became highly decorative, often rivaling the valentines contained inside the albums. These scrapbooks saved many large valentines from destruction.

 
Valentine Card
Fold-down Coronation-type carriage with large quantity of doves. 11 1/2"X 14 1/4". Value: $165-180.
 

The Victorians loved flowers, attested by the appearance of flowers on almost every valentine manufactured. The rose was especially suited to the romantic theme of valentines. Rosebuds, tea roses, and cabbage roses appeared singly or in bouquets adorning valentines in baskets, wheelbarrows, and with birds, hearts, and hands. Other flowers commonly used in valentines included pansies, violets, lilies of the valley, lilacs, and even orchids. Embossing gave these flowers a very realistic quality.

Rather than flowers- now children, cupids and women often appeared on valentines. Children appeared alone with other children in natural settings with adults, and dressed in every conceivable form of attire. All these scraps conformed to the Victorian idea of beauty: flawless porcelain complexions, tiny noses, rosebud mouths, huge and heavily lashed eyes, and thick heads of hair.

"Germany" or "Made in Germany" are usually the only identifying marks on many of these fold-out valentines. No matter where they were designed, where they were eventually sold, or whose trademark they might sometimes possess; these cards were printed in a German factory. The greatest number of these manufacturers were located in Berlin, although other German cities: including Hamburg, Breslau, Leipzig, Dresden, and Frankfurt- also housed valentine and other card manufacturers. However, one major firm, Emmanuel Heller, was based in Vienna.

 

Countless single pieces of scraps were required to produce these very large, elaborate valentines. In an effort to save money in a period where so many scraps were needed for card manufacturing, publishers designed sheets in such a way to minimize the amount of tool making. By placing a larger number of scraps in a single sheet and increasing the size of the sheet slightly, they saved much effort and money. After printing and embossing, the scraps were separated into 1000 sheet swags, for wholesale distribution. The degree of complexity involved in the printing and manufacturing determined the final price.

Originally, these cards entered America via importers who often purchased paper goods. However, as the demand for these cards increased, German companies found it profitable to set up offices in the United States, particularly New York City. U.S. Firms which imported materials included George C. Whitney, Louis Prang, Dennison Manufacturing Co., and the Hebrew Publishing Co. Many of the early German printers were Jewish and it might seem strange that they be involved in valentines. But this company's involvement is easy to understand. Their popular Jewish New Year's cards often were changed slightly and used as valentines, thus gaining a large portion of the market. Some valentines were marked and these include those made by Ernest Nister & Co., the largest lithographic establishment in Germany, based in Nuremberg. Some English manufacturers who often marked their cards were the Artistic Lithographic Co. (1891-1914) who was operated by the Obpacher Brothers and Davidson Brothers (1883-1912) which produced both cards and valentine greeting booklets.

Siegmund Hildesheimer and Company of Germany specialized in early fold-out cards. An 1884 advertisement in The Stationery Trades Journal boasted of "Valentines, Tasteful in Conception." With offices in London, Manchester, and New York, they produced countless fold-out and other three-dimensional valentines. Unfortunately none of their valentines were marked, but their distinctive large, dimensional fold-outs with themes of transportation are attributed to this company through oral historians who have interviewed workers in this prestigious firm.

 
BOOK:     "Valentine Treasury- A Century of Valentine Cards"- by Robert Brenner

A historical look at Valentine's Day including its origins and celebration customs are included. Hundreds of valentines are pictured, each in vibrant and true colors along with a price evaluation to help the collector determine current market value for these ephemeral reminders of past generations. Esther Howland, Whitney, Prang, Tuck, Gibson, Hallmark, American Greetings, and countless other manufacturers of valentines will become clear to the reader with research text and supporting photographs of valentines produced by these individuals and companies. This comprehensive book is an invaluable aid to collectors, museum curators, and to all Valentine's Day enthusiasts, helping them to better understand this very popular holiday and its traditions. Anyone who has ever sent or received a valentine will find this book fascinating and interesting to read.