Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

Love is in the cards at The Maryland Room

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courtesy of the Maryland Room
A classic Valentine card, circa 1920s, is currently on display at The C. Burr Artz Public Library’s Maryland Room
Will you be the Maryland Room’s Valentine?

Sending and receiving greeting cards on St. Valentine’s Day (Feb. 14) has been an important part of our country’s celebration of this day of love since the mid-nineteenth century. However, the development of Valentine’s Day is — like love itself — more mysterious.

Some say that Valentine’s Day has origins in early Rome. There are also several early Christian saints named Valentine, each often credited with the holiday.

Modern scholars, however, seem to agree that Valentine’s Day as we know it — a day where we express sweet thoughts to our beloved — has its origins in the work of Geoffrey Chaucer of ‘‘The Canterbury Tales,” the father of English literature.

In earlier times, people gave small tokens of affection on Valentine’s Day, including hand-made cards. In the nineteenth century cards became more elaborate and also commercially made.

The mother of American Valentines, and the Valentine’s Day card business, was Esther Howland. It is to Howland that we owe the mass production of these cards in the US. Her family owned the largest book and stationery store in Worcester, Mass. Paper was in her blood.

Howland was a graduate of Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, the predecessor to Mount Holyoke College. In 1847 she decided that she could make Valentine’s Day cards as good, if not better, than those her family was selling. She obtained lace and other supplies from New York and England and whipped up some cards. Her brother took her samples with him on a trip marketing the family’s stationery products. On his first trip he returned home with $5,000 in orders. To fill these orders she hired other young women and created an assembly line to produce her cards. Business boomed and she was doing $100,000 in sales. Her legacy is such that the Greeting Card Association has an award in her name to recognize ‘‘visionaries” in the field.

Howland’s Valentines were elaborate and greatly embellished. The Valentine pictured, from the early twentieth century, is much simpler, although it expresses the same sentimental thoughts. The inside declares: ‘‘To the dearest Valentine that could be, With a heart full of love — all from ME.” It also clearly exhibits many of the symbols of Valentine’s Day — hearts, hugs, the use of the color red, and candy. The scalloped edges give the illusion of lace.

This card is a very cute, but obviously very inexpensive Valentine. It is printed on very thin paper and there is no publication information anywhere on the card. The date is estimated to be the mid-1920s.

The card was owned by Alice Toms Moore, mother of noted local historian Larry Moore. Alice was born in 1914; she died in 2004. The image on the verso, or back of the card, includes a ‘‘candlestick phone,” this assists us with dating it. A candlestick phone is a tall straight phone, resembling a candlestick. This would have been a greeting card of her youth, perhaps received during a class room exchange of Valentines.

While Valentine’s Day cards and all greeting cards are considered printed ephemera (materials meant for short-term use), they really aren’t. Valentines were meant to be saved and cherished. Just as Alice saved this card for many years.

The Maryland Room would be happy to received Valentines both old and new and will save and cherish any cards it receives. Valentines can be sent to 110 E. Patrick Street, Frederick, MD 21701.

Mary K. Mannix manages the Maryland Room in the C. Burr Artz Public Library, 110 E. Patrick St., Frederick, 301-600-1368.