Pretty designs for lovesick youths to choose from (1885)


“Do we sell as many valentines as we used to” said a dealer yesterday. “Indeed we do. We may not sell quite so many in New York City, but we send more to the East. The demand for them is growing with the populations out there. Here the soft hearts of one generation are succeeded by those of the next, and there are just about as many fellows ready to squander a dollar bill for a green bird with a yellow violet in his mouth and a motto underneath his feet as ever there were. valentines, however, are improving in the matter of art. Look at these”.

And the dealer opened a number of substantial boxes. The prevailing style of the new valentines was the decorative panel. One very handsome valentine was framed in dark crimson satin and trimmed with fringe. Neat little bows were sewed on the corners, and the space inside the frame was filled with a handsome card, bearing a finished lithographic illustration, representing a white bird sitting upon a cluster of flowers. Over the bird’s head were the words, “My best love and wishes to you.”

These fringed cards, the dealer explained, were the latest style. They were to be had in all sizes and numerous varieties, raning in price from 75 cents up to 10 dollars. One style of the panel valentine had a framework of plush in two tints, very neatly made. These fringed cards and framed valentines were found in the most ornate designs. They were really pretty, and were not a mass of fancy, unsubstantial work like the old-fashioined lace things. The would look neat upon any lady’s dressing table or mantel.

The most amusing style of valentine is the mechanical. Some of these look like a folded card as they lie in their boxes. On pulling a bit of projecting cardboard they spring open and reveal a set scene that might have come out of a miniature theatre.

Some of the designs in this style are quite pretty. Of course nearly all of them represented youths and maidens in the last throes of languishing attachment, but others were more mystic in their symbolism. One when pulled open revealed a basket of two flowers, in which tow pink roses opened. In front of the basket two miniature damsels were kneeling as if in prayer. Just what this meant the dealer did not know, but he felt sure that the pretty effect of the opening roses would make the thing sell.

One pretty valentine had two pretty figures sitting in love-like proximity. When the projecting bit of tape was pulled the little figures flew into each other’s arms and indulged in a hearty embrace, while a printed slip came out beneath bearing a few lines of erotic doggerel. The figures in this valentine were clad in feathers and presented a brilliant appearance. People can get these valentines for $5 each.

Another valentine represented a basket of gorgeous roses. When the string was pulled the side of the basket opened and revealed two lovers engaged in osculatory gymnastics. Another one was evidently built since Mme. Victoria Hulskamp spraning into public prominence. It represented a colored coachman in all the glitter of his brass-buttoned coat promenading with a beautiful little blonde, attired in a tasteful costume trimmed with fur. The coachman was grinning like an inebriated orang-outang and the young lady smiled a smile that was reminiscent of Coney Island and the sfot, persuasive clam.

Then there was a sad-faced creature that burst into a hearty laugh when his string was pulled and a dude whose false teeth fell out. For those who have been stricken with the roller skate measles valentines have been expressly made. One of them has a cluster of flowers painted on a glass screen. By pulling a string these flowers divide and reveal a party of youths and maidens gliding about in that perfect security which the roller skate affords – in pictures.

One of the handsomest valentines seen anywhere was a perfumed handkerchief case. Its cover was of satin, covered with hand painted flowers. In the bottom of the case was an illuminated valentine, containing a number of lines of so-called poetry, each initial letter being composed of handsomely colored flowers. Another valentine represented a very fine point lace handkerchief. It was delicately scented and parted in the middle, revealing a lot of flowers half-buried in foliage. One neat device,gotten up for admirers of the pugilistic art, was a beveled card with a button in the centre. On pressing this button two heroes of the prize ring in fighting costume suddenly appeared above the edge of the card ready to spar four rounds for the gate money.

Another design represented two circus performers. When the inevitable string was pulled one of them turned his heels up into the air and performed a hand balance on the other’s head.

Comic valentines are made in the usual style on paper. They are on the usual elevated plane of art, and will serve their customary purpose of making sensitive persons very angry. They are printed by the thousands and have a good sale. They are the cheapest sort of valentine while the most expensive are hand-painted on satin.

Most of the valentines sold in this city are manufactured here or in the immediate vicinity. A number of men are engaged throughout the year in elaborating designs for them. The fine work on them is done by women and young girls, whose deft fingers the manufacturers find indispensable in putting on the little fringes and bows and other decorations now used in making these anonymous love letters.

Source: The New York Times, February, 1885

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