Valentine’s in New Haven

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Early Valentine’s cards were homemade. Some New Haven youth would “ponder their poetical lines” in early January and once they were finished their cards were “a thing of personal worth”. In the 1840’s however, Valentine’s cards began to be massed produced, causing “second-handed twaddle and mawkishness”. [1] Homemade cards were no longer popular, instead being a sign of “stinginess”.[2]

In the early 1880’s, Valentine’s cards were “highly ornamented with figures and surroundings in color”.[3] Dealers in “fancy stationery”[4] and booksellers like Northrop, Mr. Judd and Charles Coan, all on Chapel Street[5], displayed “visible representations of genuine love-variegated in color, trimmed with lace, embossed, gilded,…decorated with crimson hearts pierced with arrows,…perfumed with orris root or spices”. [6] It was reported that one of the prettiest cards in 1883 had “puffed silken or satin sides of delicate tints and edged with fringe to match” and the designs in this year were “generally floral”.[7]

In 1884, 5,000-6,500 Valentine’s Day letters were received by the New Haven post office, much exceeding the number of Christmas and Easter cards sent.[8] In 1891, a Chapel Street stationer stated that celluloid was “made into hearts hand painted with some appropriate Valentine design”. “Bannerettes, handkerchief boxes, pin trays, book marks”, “Penwipers which thoroughly concealed their identity,.. blotters tied with ribbons and their covers beautifully decorated” and “sachet bags of silk and satin, trimmed with lace” were all sold, these gifts being both useful and ornamental.[9] It was reported that although women bought more Valentine’s than men, there was more money in selling to men since they would pay “four and five and six dollars”. Thus, like today, cupid made “a hole in the pocketbook as well as in the heart”.[10]

However, Valentine’s Day was not just about the lover but also the “wicked small boy”[11] and the day was often used to “square up the year’s grudges”[12].  Yellow and blue “abominations” called “comic” Valentine’s were often sent in New Haven,[13] causing women to “avoid the post-office until the era of truth-telling” was over.[14] In 1887, it was reported that “One servant girl on Whalley avenue had four of them carried to her on the first mail delivery” and “One of the carriers received a comic valentine entitled “The Masher””.[15] Ultimately these cards caused people to regard “their mail,…with suspicion and distrust”[16].

It was reported that “One of the most remarkable valentines ever sent through the New Haven post-office, was forwarded to a Grand avenue man,… The package was a box about two feet long, one foot wide and six inches high, wrapped up in course paper and tied with heavy cord,… The valentine consisted of one of the common penny-cartoons and a big piece of velvet carpet, considerably worn. To the carpet was attached a letter,…

Dear Mike-
Take this carpet to wipe your
dirty feet when you go around to the back
door calling on the girls”[17]

In 1894, it was said that the comic cards had “verses” “as suggestive and calculated to make the recipient’s bosom heave with indignation because of their applicability” and that there would be “many incensed people in the city”.[18] The senders of these cards often had the receivers help pay for postage and thus people were “paying for a “grind” on themselves”. In 1896, it was believed that the post office received about 1,000 comic Valentine’s and about 20 of these “were held at the office as scurrilous mail” and “destroyed” since they were “sent in unsealed envelopes”. In this year there were a few cards addressed to policemen, in which the “the cheap caricatures” represented them as “taking bribes and hush money”. [19]  In 1897, the “Bloomer Girl” was ridiculed, one verse of the hard hitting “poem” stating that “Death seems to have made a mistake and overlooked you”. “The mother who trundles her baby on her wheel” was “liable to get one of the valentines labeled “The Idiot Mother””. Apparently “No nationality or race escaped” being characterized. [20]

Ultimately, there were two very different positions New Havener’s could take on Valentine ’s Day in the middle to late Nineteenth Century and whilst some Valentine’s breathed “tender, loving sentiment” others were “filled with hissing hate”. [21]


[1] “Friendship’s Missives”, New Haven(Ct.) Evening Register,  15 February 1881, p. 1, col. 3; digital image, News Bank: America’s Historical Newspapers (www.infoweb.newsbank.com : accessed 13 February 2012). News Bank used for rest of sources, unless otherwise stated.
[2] “Rules of Society in Regard to Valentines”, New Haven(Ct.) Evening Register,  16 February 1889, p. 2, col. 2.
[3] “St Valentine’s Day”, New Haven(Ct.) Evening Register,  31 January 1881, p. 4, col. 1.
[4] “Friendship’s Missives”, New Haven(Ct.) Evening Register,  15 February 1881, p. 1, col. 3.
[5] “Now for Valentines”, New Haven(Ct.) Evening Register,  8 February 1884, p. 4, col. 5. Also,  “Valentines!”, New Haven(Ct.) Evening Register,  5 February 1883, p. 4, col. 6. Also, “Where to Buy the Best Valentines”, New Haven(Ct.) Evening Register,  13 February 1882, p. 4, col. 3. Also, Price, Lee & Co., compilers, New Haven (Ct.) Directory (New Haven: Price, Lee & Co., 1883), 400; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 13 February 2012).
[6] “Friendship’s Missives”, New Haven(Ct.) Evening Register,  15 February 1881, p. 1, col. 3.
[7] “St Valentine’s Day”, New Haven(Ct.) Evening Register, 13 February 1883, p. 1, col. 5.
[8] “Cunning Cupid”, New Haven(Ct.) Evening Register, 14 February 1884, p. 1, col. 6.
[9] “Treasures of the Valentine”, New Haven(Ct.) Evening Register, 14 February 1891, p. 1, col. 9.
[10] “St Valentine’s Day”, New Haven(Ct.) Evening Register,  14 February 1888, p. 1, col. 7.
[11] “[St Valentine’s Day]”, New Haven(Ct.) Evening Register,  14 February 1891, p. 2, col. 1.
[12] “[The month of valentines,…]”, New Haven(Ct.) Evening Register,  1 February 1881, p. 2, col. 2.
[13]“[There is a great deal of fluttering among hearts just now,…]”, New Haven(Ct.) Evening Register,  6 February 1880, p. 2, col. 2.
[14] “[The time is rapidly approaching,…]”, New Haven(Ct.) Evening Register,  5 February 1879, p. 2, col. 2.
[15] “February 14th at the Postoffice”, New Haven(Ct.) Evening Register,  14 February 1887, p. 1, col. 2.
[16] “St Valentine’s Day”, New Haven(Ct.) Evening Register,  14 February 1888, p. 1, col. 7.
[17] “One Woman’s Sentiment”, New Haven(Ct.) Evening Register,  13 February 1891, p. 1, col. 4.
[18] “St Valentine’s Day”, New Haven(Ct.) Evening Register, 14 February 1894, p. 1, col. 4.
[19] “Valentines by Mail”, New Haven(Ct.) Evening Register, 14 February 1896, p. 2, col. 5.
[20] “Bloomer Girl Ridiculed”, New Haven(Ct.) Evening Register, 13 February 1897, p. 7, col. 1 & 2.
[21] “Valentines”, New Haven(Ct.) Evening Register, 10 February 1880, p. 2, col. 2.

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