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Henry B. Plant Museum Presents Hearts and Flowers Victorian Valentines

This exhibit on view February 1-28, 2011 features a collection of antique valentines from the late 19 and early 20 centuries. Samples of this treasured paper ephemera will be on display in cabinets. Themes often included pictures of children and cherubs, cupids and arrows, hearts, forget-me-nots, lush cabbage roses, bits of lace, feathers, seashells and dried flowers – all intertwined with sentimental messages.

Historians know little about early celebrations of Valentine’s Day. According to Popular Antiquities, a book by John Brand published in 1877, people in England observed the holiday as early as 1446. In those days, young people chose their valentines by writing names on slips of paper, then drawing them by chance from a vase. An account of the celebration of the holiday in the 1700’s describes how social groups met “in the homes of gentry” on the eve of Valentine’s Day to carry out this custom. After drawing lots, each young man wore the paper with his lady’s name on his sleeve for several days. The expression, “ He wears his heart on his sleeve,” probably came from this custom.

Valentine’s Day reached its height of celebration in the Victorian Era. The majority of the early Victorian valentines were made by hand from honeycombed tissue, watercolors, paper puffs, colored inks, embossed paper hearts and exquisite lace. With printing advances in the 1850’s, designing cards became a highly competitive market, and included a vast array of motifs and verses. Cards were being produced by the thousands, from whimsical to sentimental, and even though they were mass-produced; they featured feathers of real birds, posies of dried flowers and hearts trimmed with ribbons and gold lace.

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