Vintage Valentine's Day cards are popular with collectors of ephemera, and they also offer insight into the values and fashions of bygone eras. Whether you are starting a collection or hoping to learn more about a valentine you already own, it helps to know a bit about where to buy these cute cards and the characteristics of each major style.
Where to Buy
Most antique stores carry a few vintage greeting cards, including valentines. However, if you're interested in a specific era or theme or you want a better selection, the Internet is your best shopping resource. If you're shopping online, don't forget to check out the following sites:
- eBay - An eBay search turns up hundreds of beautiful and quirky vintage and antique Valentine's Day cards from all different eras. The selection changes all the time as auctions come and go, so check back frequently if you're looking for something specific.
- Etsy - Sellers on Etsy's vintage section offer more than 3,000 different Valentine's Day cards, dating from the 1900s through the 1970s. Once again, the selection changes all the time, so it makes sense to snap something up if you see it.
- Ruby Lane - This online antiques mall carries a number of vintage greeting cards with a Valentine's Day theme. They date from the Victorian era through the 1980s. Each card is unique, so the selection changes.
You can also find antique valentines in old scrap books available for purchase at antique stores and flea markets.
Antique Valentine's Day Cards Through the Years
Since the mid-19th century, people have exchanged greeting cards in celebration of Valentine's Day, and many of these cards still exist. Each era had its own themes and style, and collectors often choose to focus their efforts on one particular time period or motif.
Understanding the hallmarks of various eras can help you date your valentine or choose a specific type of card to collect.
Early Victorian Valentines: 1850 Through 1880
According to Collectors Weekly, the custom of exchanging valentines truly took off around 1850. At this time, a woman named Esther Howland began a very successful business producing Valentine's Day cards. People in England and the United States also hand-made cards to give to sweethearts.
Expect to see some of the following themes and styles in greeting cards from this era:
- 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
- Single-sided cards
- Cards with flaps that could be lifted
Later Victorian Valentines: 1880s Through 1900
During the later Victorian years, valentines became easier to mass produce. According to Collectors Weekly, lithographed cards became 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
- Fan-shaped greetings
- Cards with hearts, birds, cherubs, and flowers
- Pop-up cards with honeycomb paper inside
Early 20th Century Valentines: 1900s Through the 1930s
According to Antique Trader, 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 air planes
- 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, Antique Trader reports that 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
Finding the Value of an Antique Valentine
In addition to the valuable insight they provide about the fashions and events of the era in which they were produced, some antique valentines also have a monetary value. You can find these old greeting cards for as little as two dollars, but some examples can fetch over $100.
Factors Affecting Value
According to Kovels, there are a number of factors that indicate a valuable antique valentine:
- The design or theme should be unique and interesting, rather than a simple floral or heart-shaped card.
- Ideally, it will feature elements that are related to the events of the era in which it was made.
- The valentine should be in good condition. It may or may not have writing on it.
- The card features cartoon characters or celebrities from the era.
Getting a Valentine Appraised
To get a sense of your valentine's value, you can have it professionally appraised by a specialist in ephemera. To find a local resource, inquire at antique shops in your area.
Plenty to Love for Collectors
Vintage valentines offer unique insight into the values and fashions of their eras, and they also offer a charming opportunity for collectors. 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.