Antique valentines are white and read all over

These days, with the popularity of sending online invitations and greeting cards, a good old-fashioned Valentine's Day card may just represent an era gone by.

Today, many valentines are a piece of history. Some of the oldest valentine treasures can be traced back to about 1740 to 1840 and are now in museums, rarely found by collectors.

Fancy cards made in Germany were especially elegant, with their honeycomb paper insets, embossing, foldouts and ribbon embellishments. Some German valentines were cutouts with movable parts.

In America, the sending and exchanging of love letters or valentines was a custom among the German immigrants of Pennsylvania, who later made their way across the country. Mass production found its way to the marketplace in the United States about 1850, when a Massachusetts woman, Esther Howland, began making cards to sell as part of a business named the New England Valentine Co.

In 1870, George C. Whitney developed domestic material and the equipment needed for fancy embossing. He bought out several competitors, one of which was Howland, in 1880.


Following World War II, Whitman Publishing Co. was one of the major American producers of valentines. Other paper collectibles to add to a Valentine collection are those made by Dennison, the makers of party goods such as plates, doilies, cut-out hearts to hang from the ceiling and fold-out honeycomb tissue hearts to use as centerpieces.

It’s not difficult to start collecting vintage valentines. There is a variety of antique and more recent valentines available for a collector who has the desire for vintage items, according to Melissa Placzek, of Red Wing, an avid collector of vintage pieces.

"After my husband and I were married, I started decorating my home for Valentine's Day every year," she says. "I already had an extensive collection of vintage red and white linens and some red and white enamelware, so adding vintage and antique valentines seemed like a natural progression because of my love for red and white."

"I saw so many valentines in antique stores I just had to have some of my own," she said. "I have about 100 valentine cards and a few postcards."

Valentine cards from the Victorian era can sell for as much as $400, depending on how unusual the card is, but not all cards are that expensive. Cards from the 1930s through ‘50s can be found for $5 or less, as well as some vintage valentine postcards from the early 1900s.

"I only paid a couple dollars each for my valentines," Placzek says. " I really don't know what they're worth now. I do treat myself to a few new vintage valentines every year. I can't resist."

When it comes to storing and protecting your vintage valentines, Placzek recommends placing them in acid-free envelopes and being careful not to get tape or glue on them.

"Also," she says, "I don’t store them in a hot attic, garage or a damp basement, as the temperature in those areas might hide silverfish or mice."

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