Valentine’s Day History A’la Carte 2018 edition


How much do you know about Valentine’s Day history? Test your knowledge against these articles!

Victorian Valentine’s Day Cards 

A selection of Victorian Valentine’s Day cards went on show last year at Manchester Metropolitan University.

The cards, often handmade, featured lace, pressed grass and Valentine’s jokes. One card, titled “The Bark of Love”, featured a fairy in a gilded carriage drawn by two swans. Another, rather saucy card, featured what is possibly a pair of Victorian undergarments, with the message, “I think of you with inexpressible delight”.


Valentine’s Day in the Georgian Era 

There were many different customs and traditions surrounding Valentine’s Day, one of which baffled the unsentimental writer of this letter to the newspaper.

St Valentine’s Day customs 

On the night before Valentine’s Day, take five bay leaves, pin four of them to the corners of your pillow, and the fifth to the middle. If you dream of your sweetheart, you will be married before the year is over. To stimulate dreams, hard boil an egg, take out the yolk, and fill the egg with salt.  When you go to bed, eat the egg, shell included.  Do not speak or drink afterwards.


How to find your Valentine – Georgian style

Well, Valentine’s Day is fast approaching and it’s a leap year, so what are you waiting for, it’s the perfect time to find your soul mate. The Georgians were no different – they believed that they had to pull out all the stops to find the person of their dreams, so forget internet dating and give some of these a go!


Valentine’s Day in early 19th century America

The custom of celebrating St. Valentine’s Day came to America with English and German settlers. Though mass-produced valentine cards did not appear in the United States until the mid-19th century, handmade valentines were exchanged as early as the Revolutionary War.



To celebrate the holiday 19th century style, I’ve collected a few Valentine’s Day news items from Regency England, Victorian England, and even 1890s Texas.


 Valentine’s Day: A Brief History

Valentine’s precise identity is mysterious–he might have been a Bishop of Terni, he might have been a priest. Legends about him are various.


 Margery and John Paston: Fifteenth-Century Valentines

As we celebrate the day dedicated to love letters, it seems appropriate to share a Valentine’s Day story from one of the most famous letter-writing families of the Middle Ages: the Pastons. Letters written by all sorts of different members of the Paston family managed to survive the Middle Ages against all odds, and they are a treasure trove of information for historians and romantics alike.



A Ceremony Never Omitted Among the Vulgar

John Brand in his Observations on Popular Antiquities (1813) quotes examples of names being drawn for Valentines and also of various ways of divining who your lover will be – for example taking five bay leaves, pining one to each corner of your pillow and one to the middle the night before the 14th and you would then dream of your beloved. The  sending of written Valentines or cards appears to have developed as the postal service improved at the end of the 18th century and the unimaginative male could turn to The Young Man’s Valentine Writer (1792) and copy out one of the sickly-sweet verses it contained.


Broken Valentine Promise

On Valentine’s Day 1904, Ernest Down made a proposal of marriage to Bessie French at Plymouth Friary railway station. In June 1905 Bessie took Ernest to court to recover damages for breach of promise.



Published in 1875, The Lover’s Poetic Companion and Valentine Writer is a book intended for Victorian ladies and gentlemen “who wish to address those they love in suitable terms.”  It contains a variety of Valentine verses, ranging from the sweet to the satirical.  The book promises that these “Love Lyrics” are harmless and that even the more comical lines do not descend into vulgarity.  But what these verses lack in vulgarity, they more than make up for in unkindness and—in some instances—outright cruelty.

Great Tom the Christ Church Belle: Valentine’s Day 1816

Great Tom is the name of the bell which hangs in Tom Tower at Christ Church, one of the colleges at Oxford University. The following print was produced for Valentine’s Day in 1816, playing on the names, with two Oxford men fleeing underneath Great Tom away from a Christ Church Belle.


Love Me Do: Medieval Love Spells

 Valentine’s Day is all about love — mutual love and shared love. But what if love is unrequited or one-sided? The problem, as always, is not a new one. It was well known in ancient and medieval times alike, but different people had their own ways of dealing with it.



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1 comment

    • J. W. Garrett on February 13, 2018 at 9:54 pm
    • Reply

    Delightful, thanks for sharing.

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