Tag Archives: Valentine’s Day

My Favourite Objects: Birdcage Valentine

More of a celebrator of Anna Howard Shaw Day than Valentine’s Day on 14 February, I never really spent much time down the card aisle hunting for the perfect valentine. That was until I took a journey through the valentines section of our archive.

Boxes and boxes full of Valentines

Boxes and boxes full of Valentines

We have nearly 1000 individual valentines in our collection spanning from the oldest in 1790 to ones as recent as 1996. As you can see in the picture above, they fill the shelves from floor to ceiling! One of the runner’s up for my favourite object was a Vinegar Valentine. You can’t help but be in shock by the rude (and downright nasty) nature of these. Just take a look at the following transformation card.

vinegar

My favourite object is a much more humbling valentine of a birdcage from 1817. It doesn’t look like your traditional valentine with hearts and love sprawled across it, and from the picture below it doesn’t look like anything too special.

Birdcage valentine (OB1995.49)

Birdcage valentine (OB1995.49)

However, the image above really doesn’t do it any justice through! In the centre is a string to pull. We haven’t tried to open it for quite some time, so after a bit of a pep talk Curator Emma demonstrated how the card works for me and now with you!

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Nearly 200 years old, this card is beautifully illustrated with the bird on the front and the two little mice on the inside. Way before laser cutting, the detailed cuts that form the cage were done by hand. Valentines sent during the 19th century, apart from Vinegar Valentines, were usually handmade mementos of affection – a lot of time was spent making these cards. This is why the Valentine Birdcage is my favourite object, because of its individual nature. It isn’t a generic card on the shelf but made specifically for the receiver. In other words, the admiration for the receiver is in the details NOT in the number of pink hearts.

What’s the best valentine you ever received or sent? We would love to see it!  Tweet us @postalheritage or send us an email at peoplespost@postalheritage.org.uk.

See even more valentines on our new online exhibition.

-Rachel Kasbohm, Digital Media Manager

 

Make your own Victorian Inspired Valentine’s Card

Victorian Valentine’s The popularity of sending Valentine’s cards greatly increased in the Victorian period, thanks, in part, to the introduction of the Penny Post. Victorian Valentine’s cards were often made of a number of different  materials, including lace, fringing, fabric and even human hair, which were layered, one on top of the other, much like a scrap book. Pictures of flowers were popular, as were images of Cupid and hearts. Victorian cards were a lot smaller than those generally on sale today and came in lots of different shapes. Some cards even had elaborate or novelty features like pop ups, music, scent and mechanical components.

'To My Valentine' Valentine Card c. 1890

‘To My Valentine’ Valentine Card c. 1890

Make your own Here are some beautiful images from Victorian Valentine’s cards in the BPMA’s collection for you to print out, cut out and use to create your very own Victorian inspired Valentine’s card. You could include your own photographs, sketches or memontos to make the cards really personal. 1 2 3 4

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We would love to see how your cards turn out or hear about any interesting cards you’ve sent or received yourself! Tweet us @postalheritage or send us an email at peoplespost@postalheritage.org.uk. -Joanna Espin, Curator

Vinegar Valentines

Sending special letters for Valentine’s day probably dates from the mid-18th century. We have a number of examples of early Valentines in our collection. The idea of choosing a sweetheart on Valentine’s Day may be connected with the idea that 14 February is the date on which birds began mating.

A Valentine's day featuring an image of a bird.

A Valentine’s day featuring an image of a bird.

The name of the day has also been linked to a Christian martyr named Valentine who signed a letter to his jailer’s daughter, with whom he had fallen in love, “from your Valentine.” It was even believed in the eighteenth century that the festival had developed from the Roman Lupercalia (15 February), which celebrated the coming of spring and included fertility rites and the pairing off of women with men by lottery.

A spiteful valentine from c.1814 sent to Thomas Williams Esq., No. 41 Berkley Sqaure. The last line of the verse reads 'if all men, were like thee - then, I'd sooner die than marry'.

A spiteful valentine from c.1814 sent to Thomas Williams Esq., No. 41 Berkley Sqaure. The last line of the verse reads ‘if all men, were like thee – then, I’d sooner die than marry’.

Not all valentines were declarations of love however. We have letters in BPMA’s collection complaining about the sending of insulting and rude Valentines and more particularly about having to pay for them. This is because prior to 1840 and the introduction of uniform penny postage, letters were paid for by the recipient rather than the sender. As such, on Valentine’s day some people with a particular grudge or spite against someone would, anonymously, send rude or grotesque valentines which the receiver would then have to pay for, really adding insult to injury. These have become colloquially known as spiteful or ‘vinegar valentines’. Complaints were made to postmasters requesting refunds for such vinegar valentines.

Poster showing the consequences of missorting, especially on Valentine's Day

Poster showing the consequences of missorting, especially on Valentine’s Day

As a variation of this, one of our acquisitions for the museum collection in the past year was a coloured print of a postman delivering letters on Valentine’s Day. Although of a much later date this print shows how the public didn’t always trust the Post Office to deliver their valentines in a prompt and appropriate manner, and postmen were certainly not viewed as potential valentines themselves.

A spiteful/vinegar/comic Valentine or Penny Dreadful.

A spiteful/vinegar/comic Valentine or Penny Dreadful.

We hope you all receive nicer Valentines than these!

Emma Harper, Curator

Valentines Greetings Telegrams

At this time of the year the postal service is kept busy delivering love letters and cards on Valentine’s Day, but in the 20th Century cards and letters weren’t the only ways to send a romantic message. In 1936 the General Post Office introduced the Valentine’s Day greetings telegram, which enabled people to send a 9 word message for just 9d. This was 3d more expensive than sending a standard telegram, but it meant that the message would arrive on a specially-designed form.

Valentine's greetings telegram, issued 14th February 1936, designed by Rex Whistler.

Valentine’s greetings telegram, issued 14th February 1936, designed by Rex Whistler.

Greetings telegrams were introduced in Denmark in 1907, and in Sweden in 1912. By the time Britain introduced them in 1935 most of Europe, the USA and many other countries had such a service. Between 1935 and the cessation of the service in 1982 a variety of greetings telegrams forms had been issued, enabling customers to send greetings for weddings, birthdays, coming of ages, Christmas and the Coronation, as well as Valentine’s Day.

The 1936 Valentine’s Day greetings telegram was seen as an experiment by the GPO, and it was the first telegram form to be printed in multiple colours. 50,000 Valentines telegrams were sent in 1936, which provided a much-need boost to the telegram service at a time when it was facing stiff competition from the telephone service.

During the Second World War the greetings telegram service was downscaled, and an “all in one” telegram form was introduced in 1942. It was less elaborate and colourful (to save on ink and paper during wartime shortages), and was carefully designed to be appropriate for many occasions. The design shows a village scene: a young couple have just been married in the church, an older couple are sitting on a bench together (perhaps having a low-key wedding anniversary celebration, or consoling each other after a loss), and a stork is delivering a baby to another couple.

War economy greetings telegram, issued 20th June 1942, designed by Kathleen Atkins.

War economy greetings telegram, issued 20th June 1942, designed by Kathleen Atkins.

Valentine’s Day greetings telegrams returned in 1951, with new forms issued in both 1952 and 1953. Thereafter it became common to re-issue greetings telegram designs from previous years. Rosemary Kay designed the last new Valentine’s Day greetings telegram form in 1961.

Valentine's Day greetings telegram, issued 14 February 1961, designed by Rosemary Kay.

Valentine’s Day greetings telegram, issued 14 February 1961, designed by Rosemary Kay.

– Alison Bean, Web Officer

Visit us on Flickr to see a selection of Valentine’s Day greetings telegram forms and Valentine’s Day greetings telegram form artwork.

Bibliography:

Valentines Day

Throughout the ages people have exchanged love tokens, from bunches of flowers to text messages. Within our collections we hold examples of written and artistic love tokens which have been sent through the post, including Valentines Cards, letters and even special greetings telegrams. Today in honour of St Valentine we have uploaded some of these to Flickr and our new Pinterest profile.

Double cobweb valentine card. French. A chromolithograph card with a gilt border.Tassel pulls to reveal lovers and bride and groom. Message reads 'Pense a moi'. 19th century (OB1996.86)

Double cobweb valentine card. French. A chromolithograph card with a gilt border.Tassel pulls to reveal lovers and bride and groom. Message reads ‘Pense a moi’. 19th century (OB1996.86)

In addition to the newly uploaded images we have plenty more about Valentines Day and Valentines Cards online. Further images of Valentines Cards, including some made in our Victorian Valentines workshops, have been collected on Flickr. And you can read more on the story of Valentines Cards and greetings in our online exhibition Valentines Day: Passion Through the Post or in The Peoples Post: Love Letters.

Valentine’s at Blists Hill

In February, BPMA will be displaying a small selection of Valentine’s cards at Blists Hill Victorian Town in Ironbridge. These will complement the Victorian Post Office as well as the family activities linked to the cards which will take place in the Goods Shed on the site from Saturday 11th to Sunday 19th February.

A selection of cards we may use for the display if they are in adequate condition.

A selection of cards we may use for the display if they are in adequate condition.

Despite the display being relatively small and only open for just over a week, a lot of planning and preparation is needed to make sure the items chosen are going to be interesting to the public, easy to transport and that they will be safe and secure while on the site.

This week, three of us visited Blists Hill in order to take some measurements in readiness for the arrival of the cards in February. This meant my first use of a hygrometer (sadly not the whirling variety) to test relative humidity in the display area, tests for light and UV, and taking some simpler length and width measurements of the room so that the appropriately sized case can be ordered.

Exhibitions Officer Dominique Bignall and Head of Heritage Chris Taft check levels in the Museum of the Post Office in the Community while we are on site.

Exhibitions Officer Dominique Bignall and Head of Heritage Chris Taft check levels in the Museum of the Post Office in the Community while we are on site.

It also gave us the opportunity to do some tests in the Museum of the Post Office in Community and determine which items might need to be replaced or refreshed to give them a rest from being on display.

The Post Office at Blists Hill.

The Post Office at Blists Hill.

Visits like these are really important to make sure we get more of our collection seen by more people. If you are in the area between 11 and 19 February, pop in and see the display – some unexpected interpretations of Valentine’s will be on show – and come and make a card of your own in the Goods Shed!

– Laura Dixon, Learning Officer (Events & Outreach)

Valentine Cards

As we heard in today’s episode of The Peoples Post, the introduction of cheap postage sent shockwaves through prim and proper Victorian society; private correspondence could now be sent cheaply, meaning anyone could express their love freely. While the likes of Blackwoods Magazine thundered…

The post-office system offers a facility for clandestine correspondence which no respectable father or mother on the European side of the Atlantic would think of without a shudder

…the truth of the matter was that love tokens, whether in the form of letters or cards, had been exchanged by the upper and middle classes in large numbers for several centuries, and less commonly before then.

As today, such expressions of love were often quite elaborate and beautiful, and some were written in code. Below are some of the more interesting examples from our collection.

'Your love my happiness' - c.1870 (OB1995.165/1A)

'Your love my happiness' - c.1870 (OB1995.165/1A). Valentine card with gilt silver embossed paper lace around edges with pink fabric flowers. Gold scrap at bottom bearing greeting. Chromolithograph girl with flowers in centre surrounded by fabric and waxed flowers with net at top.

'To My Valentine' - c.1890 (OB1995.166)

'To My Valentine' - c.1890 (OB1995.166). Chromolithograph valentine fan with 12 segments. Elaborate embossed design, gilt on handheld parts. Primroses and forget-me-nots design, with pretty ladies on each head. Each segment bears a verse: To My Valentine/ Dearer than all life's/ Joys art thou,/ A treasure without eclipse/ My heart beats proudly/ To know I share/ A love that is oure and free/ To feel there is one in/ The world doth spare/ Full many a thought/ For me. With warmest affection. Decorated with tassels and ribbon.

'My Valentine/ I love you' - c.1900 (OB1996.93/1)

'My Valentine/ I love you' - c.1900 (OB1996.93/1). A mechanical card of a girl typing a valentine message. At the bottom of the card are the words: Write me a letter love.

'To the one I love' Valentine Card - c.1900 (OB1996.93/2)

'To the one I love' Valentine Card - c.1900 (OB1996.93/2). A mechanical card of a girl with scurrying feet bringing valentine hearts in a dish.

Pop up valentine card - 20th Century (OB1996.94)

Pop up valentine card - 20th Century (OB1996.94). Depicts a honey house surrounded by heart with wings, and a googly-eyed girl. Message reads: Oh may I dare. To ask of thee/ A place within/ Thy heart for me?

– Alison Bean, Web Officer

For more on Valentine cards visit the Royal Mail Archive to read The Valentine and its Origins by Frank Staff or visit our website to view our online exhibition Valentine’s Day – Passion through the post.

For more on today’s episode of The Peoples Post see our webpage Love Letters. Further images can be found on Flickr. Use the Twitter hashtag #PeoplesPost to comment on the show.

Greetings Telegrams

by Vanessa Bell, Archivist

Greetings telegrams were introduced in Great Britain on 24 July 1935; for the payment of an extra 3d (three pence) people could have their telegrams delivered on a specially illustrated form complete with a golden envelope.

Advertisement for the Greetings Telegram service: "A new way of saying Many Happy Returns"

Advertisement for the Greetings Telegram service (POST 104/15).

Greetings telegrams had already proved popular in other countries and they were an instant hit with the British public with nearly 25,000 telegrams being sent in the first week.

Advertisement for the Greetings Telegram service: "Send a Greetings Telegram"

Advertisement for the Greetings Telegram service (POST 104/15).

For the Post Office, greetings telegrams were a means of revitalising the telegraph service; according to E T Crutchley in his book ‘GPO’ (p140), it gave the service ‘a chance to play its part in the joyful occasions of life’, helping it to ‘dispel that atmosphere of dread and sorrow with which the telegram was so often surrounded in the past’.

In 1935 George V sent a message to the Postmaster General congratulating him on the 300th anniversary of the Post Office, he chose to send his message via the recently launched Greetings Telegram service on a form designed by Margaret Calkin James.  This message was reproduced and displayed in post offices around the country in order to advertise the service.

A reproduction of the greetings telegram sent by George V to the Postmaster General used as advertising in post offices.

A reproduction of the greetings telegram sent by George V to the Postmaster General used as advertising in post offices (POST 104/14).

The Post Office employed several key artists to produce telegrams; these included Frank Newbould, Claudia Freedman, Edward Ardizzone and Rex Whistler. Whistler designed the very first St Valentine’s day greetings telegram in February 1936; it proved popular and thereafter St Valentine’s day greetings telegrams were issued annually.

The St Valentine's day telegram is bordered with cherubs holding arrangements of leaves and fruits.

St Valentine’s day greetings telegram form 1936 designed by Rex Whistler (POST 104).

The Post Office also issued exhibition souvenir greetings telegrams.

A souvineer telegram from the Post Office Exhibition, Portsmouth & Southsea, 1936. The telegram has a thick blue border and a drawing of a telegram messanger boy aboard a motorcycle.

Souvenir greetings telegram from the Post Office Exhibition, Portsmouth & Southsea, 1936 (POST 104/26).

The telegram has a blue and red border featuring a Christmas tree and an image of a telegram messenger boy.

Souvenir greetings telegram from the Young People’s Post Office Exhibition (POST 104/26).

In 1937, Macdonald Gill was commissioned to produce a special telegram to celebrate the coronation of George VI. In 1953, this idea was used again when Harold Lynton Lamb designed a telegram to celebrate the coronation of Elizabeth II.

The telegram is bordered by the monarch's coat of arms, surrounded by official flowers of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland

George VI coronation telegram designed by Macdonald Gill, 1937 (POST 104).

Up until December 1940, greetings telegrams were delivered in a distinctive golden envelope, this colour was intended to emphasise the special nature of their contents. The outbreak of war necessitated the introduction of a new envelope, which was printed on white paper in blue to enable telegram delivery boys to read the addresses more easily during blackout periods.

Wartime exigencies brought about the suspension of the Greetings Telegram service on 30 April 1943; prior to this, economies had been made, with telegrams being issued in a more basic format to save on ink and paper.

The service was not reintroduced until November 1950 when the end of paper rationing saw the launch of a new greetings telegram form, designed by Claudia Freedman, together with a new yellow envelope, printed with red and black.

The return of the Greetings Telegram service was welcomed and the ensuing years saw designs by eminent artists such as, Eric Fraser, Balint Stephen Biro and John Strickland Goodall.

On 1 March 1957, in an attempt to boost usage of the service, a special ‘deluxe’ style of greetings telegram was introduced; this was a large folded card which came with a matching envelope, similar to a greetings card. The first of these, designed by Elizabeth Corsellis, was a wedding congratulations telegram, this was the first in a range of telegrams intended for specific occasions including birthdays and new births.

In 1982 the Inland Telegram service was axed by BT, although the Telemessaging service, which involved the sending of special occasion cards containing telephoned or telexed messages, continued to fulfil a similar function to the greetings telegram.

The book Bringers of Good Tidings by Ruth Artmonsky explores the Greetings Telegram is more detail. It is available now from our online shop.