Tag Archives: valentines

Our new Pinterest site: World War One Romance

World War One romance

As in previous years, we are collaborating with the National Valentine Collectors Association (USA) to highlight an aspect of valentine production.  This year, we strike a more sombre note, with valentine postcards from the First World War. This forms part of our commemoration of WWI, mainly through the John Fraser Collection of Propaganda Postcards.

Although we show a few examples from the USA, valentines themselves were, unsurprisingly, uncommon in the war years.  Instead, separated from their loved ones, men and women sent tokens of love in the form of postcards to and from the trenches to keep their romance alive. Sentimental postcards, often showing couples pining for each other across the miles, were sometimes produced in series, chronicling each verse of a popular song.

JFP-GB6-71

Woven silk postcards were produced by French women for soldiers to buy and send home. The greetings are by no means confined to valentines, but include  birthdays, Christmas, New Year, good luck cards and souvenirs.

Pin cushion valentines were often produced by disabled soldiers for rehabilitation. Elaborate designs often incorporated regimental colours.

Advertisements

Sugar and spice… but what are Valentines made of?

pinterest screen shot

The new John Johnson Pinterest site aims to answer this question by finding examples of each element of valentine manufacture. We draw on valentines not only from the John Johnson and Harding collections at the Bodleian,  but also from Nancy Rosin and the National Valentine Collectors Association (USA), with whom we are delighted to collaborate again this year, from the Museum of London (whose 1871 valentines are online)  and from Michael Russo.  This is only the beginning. We hope that collectors and institutions will draw our attention to other elements to be found in valentines and allow us to pin examples of these, so that we can build up these Pinterest folders into a scholarly resource for anyone interested in valentines.  Please send contributions to jjcoll@bodleian.ox.ac.uk

The manufacture of elaborate valentines in the Victorian era fascinated Charles Dickens and continues to intrigue us today.  These were true confections, made by hand: imaginative, but repetitive. While the printing and embossing was done by men, each of the  female workers (referred to as ‘nymphs’ by Dickens) added a precise piece to the ensemble: a colour from a watercolour pot, a scrap, a paper or fabric flower, a tinsel ornament, a shell, a glass bead, gauze, lace, netting….  The results, protected in boxes, were luxurious love tokens, far from the cruelty of  crude contemporary ‘comic’ valentines.

makingvalentinessmall

Dickens’ article published on Febrary 20 1864 as Cupid’s Manufactory (All the Year Round, volume XI, pp 36-40) is now online through the wonderful Dickens Journals Online project (University of Buckingham).  Flamboyant in style, the article describes in meticulous detail the process of  making valentines at the (unnamed) manufactory of Joseph Mansell and lists the componenents he saw being applied to the embossed lace paper which is the basis of most elaborate valentines.

This page from the Illustrated London News of February 14 1874 shows the whole process, very much as described by Dickens ten years earlier, but at the premises of George Meek and the workshop of Eugene Rimmel.

For more information about valentines in the context of the John Johnson Collection, see the two posts on this blog (February 2012, February 2013) and the online pages from The season for love (exhibition 2010). For the wider context, see the valentine entries from The John Johnson Collection’s Ephemera Resources blog.

Comic Valentines: Topical Ephemera 2

Charles Dickens, in his article Cupid’s Manufactory  (All the Year Round, February 20  1864), writes of  a visit to the firm of “Cupid and Company”  (actually Joseph Mansell) and minutely describes the process of making an elaborate valentine.  He reveals that ‘the common kinds and the comic kinds are drawn out of doors [i.e. off-site] …. The subjects of some of the comic valentines are copied from drawings in Punch and his humorous contemporaries, but the great majority of them are original, and deal mainly with the passing follies and fashions of the day – crinoline, the Dundreary whiskers, the jacket coat, the spoon bonnet, and so forth.’

Comic valentine showing woman, whose eyes, nose, teeth, breasts, etc are annotated 'false' with corresponding verse

Comic valentine published by A. Park, London

‘Comic’ valentines are the dark and lesser-known side of the tradition of sending valentines.  Far from the lace paper, tinsel, scraps and feathers of the traditional elaborate valentine, they are simply and crudely printed on single or folded sheets, and coloured by stencil. While this is also true of cheaper valentines, it is the content which surprises. Both illustration and text were intended to insult the recipient who (before pre-paid postage was introduced in 1840) had to pay to receive them.

The London Review of Books in 1865 described them as ‘scandalous productions, vilely drawn, wretchedly engraved, and hastily dabbed over with staring colours …. an outlet for every kind of spiteful innuendo,  for every malicious sneer, for every envious scoff.’

John Johnson collected 20 boxes of valentines (of which 4 are comic) and several albums.  The valentines collected by Walter Harding are also kept with the John Johnson Collection, and these include 14 boxes of later American comic valentines, published by McLoughlin Bros. of New York. While in England the valentine itself diminished in popularity and quality at the beginning of the 20th century and the vogue for ‘comic’ valentines with it, some of the McLoughlin comic valentines were published as late as 1963.

The exhibition leaflet which accompanied 2010 display of valentines: The Season for Love: a collection of choice valentines from the John Johnson Collection is online, together with the poster,  and images of the exhibits with captions.

2012: Topical ephemera 1

Advertisement for Golfer Oats, [1897] with image of Queen Victoria

JJ Food 4 (69)

2012 is a wonderful year for topical ephemera: two days ago there was the anniverary of the Queen’s accession, for which I tweeted one of my favourite advertising images from the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria: ask for Golfer Oats.

Yesterday, was Dickens’ bicentenary and I put up a new image gallery on the Johnson website. The Bodleian exhibition Dickens and his world, which will include many ephemera, runs from June 2 to October 27.

Next week, the focus will be on Valentines, with extra impetus from the Ask Archivists initiative, (Twitter #loveheritage).    Then more for the Jubilee and the Olympics. Watch this space!