In honor of Valentine’s Day, the East Hampton Historical Society is taking a look at love throughout the years. The Society’s latest exhibition, Love, Your Valentine, highlights some of the most unique Valentine’s Day Cards in their extensive collection, as well as the origins of Valentine’s Day and how love birds have commemorated February 14th.
“The origin of Saint Valentine’s Day is not a very romantic story,” declared Richard Baron, Chief Curator, in a video presented concurrently with the exhibition. “The saint behind the holiday was a Roman priest when the Empire was ruled by Claudius. Claudius persecuted Christians. He also made marriage between young adults a crime. History tells us that he felt unmarried soldiers fought better than married soldiers.”
He continued, “The Christian Church held marriage in high regard, so priests were performing marriages – even though it was in fact illegal and they were law breakers. Since Father Valentine continued to marry young couples, he was caught and condemned to death. He was well known because he had been involved in a miracle. He was praying to God because he had met a blind woman, and his prayers to God were answered, and the woman regained her sight. When he was sent to prison, he decided he would write one last letter, and that would be to the blind girl. He signed that note: ‘From, Your Valentine.'”
The East Hampton Historical Society’s collection of Valentines span from 1840s to 1950s. The earliest declarations of love are single-fold pieces that feature embossed paper that mimics lace. The Victorian cards included eloquent love notes, such as: “My heart to me, is singing…The hope that I, Am loved. By Thee.” Or “In thy calm unclouded heart, Dearest on they bended knee…Sweet Valentine remember me.”
“During the American Revolution, there were little booklets that were designed for lovers to send to their girlfriends, or the girls send to their boyfriends,” he noted. “It was a little booklet with open pages with lovely illustrations – often little hearts and cupids. You were supposed to write poetry in there and then would give the book, on Saint Valentine’s Day, to your Valentine. Or you might take it over and read it, so it would have more feeling and more emotion.”
The collection, which features at least 150 Valentines, also encompasses works inspired by Esther Howland, America’s first recognized publisher of Valentine cards. By the early 1850s, her creations were more extravagant than other options available.
“By the Civil War period, the whole idea of Saint Valentine’s Day had really become quite popular,” Baron shared. “The idea of having to write poems, a little more complicated… So, printers started printing two page Valentines or three page Valentines.”
The virtual exhibition boasts die-cut stand-up cards from 1910 to the early 1920’s, three-dimensional Valentine cards, a chromolithographed card, three-dimensional dioramas, and other magnificent proclamations of adoration.
Locally, in the 1920s, shoppers along East Hampton’s Main Street and Newtown Lane were quite fond of cards that paid homage to cupid.
For more information, visit easthamptonhistory.org.