Romantic Heart from Love Seeds by (

February 14, 2014, by Kathryn Steenson

From Manuscripts and Special Collections, with Love

Nobody who has stepped into a supermarket or watched TV this past week can have failed to notice that today, Friday, is Valentine’s Day. Although the day has been associated with love since about the 14th century, sending Valentine’s cards and poems has only been commonplace amongst the general public for the last 200 years. Many don’t survive, for the simple reason that they are usually thrown away within a short space of time.

Valentine's Day card, 1860, depicting two figures painted green and gold, surrounded by flowers coloured white and pink. Addressed to a Miss Gardner, Leeds. (Ref: Ln2/2/6/9)

Valentine’s Day card, 1860 (Ref: Ln2/2/6/9)

This Victorian Valentine’s card (Ref: Ln2/2/6/9) depicts two figures on a lace paper card, surrounded by flowers, with the legend ‘My Hand & Heart’ in a cartouche of red roses. It is not the prettiest of cards – for some reason whoever added the colour chose to depict the leaves as pink and the people a jade green and gold combination – but the motifs and sentiments are familiar.

As is tradition, it is unsigned and has no greeting or inscription written inside, although we have a good idea who both recipient and sender are. The envelope is addressed to a Miss Gardner of Leeds, with the postmark dating it to 1860. It was found in the Papers of the Lawson family of Leeds and Nottingham; 1826-1927. One member of the family, John Lawson (1845-1911) worked as a travelling salesman for the family carpet manufacturing business. He was heavily involved in Methodism from an early age and founded the Little London Sunday Schools in Leeds. He and Sophia Parker Gardner (1842-1925) married in 1871, some eleven years after the Valentine’s card was sent!

Giving a partner chocolates, flowers, and other gifts is a twentieth century evolution. As the rituals become more elaborate, the perceived commercialisation of love and romance has led to cynicism and satirisation of the sentimentality of the day.

Comic Valentine's Day poem, c.1870, with an image of a wife sitting on her husband's back and hitting him with a pair of breeches (Ref: Ln2/2/6/8)

Comic Valentine’s Day poem, c.1870 (Ref: Ln2/2/6/8)

This attitude is nothing new, as the cartoon shows (Ref: Ln2/2/6/8). Taken from the same collection, its date is uncertain but probably from the 1870s.

The overbearing and unattractive wife is riding her poor, miserable husband’s back side-saddle and whipping him with a pair of breeches. It has been very roughly coloured with watercolour. The comic verse below is a warning to love-struck young men about their fate:

In this descriptive picture he may view

What he’s to look for who may marry you;

With such a prospect, can that heart of thine

Expect me to become thy Valentine.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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