The first modern valentines reportedly became popular from the early 15th century. Following his defeat in the battle of Agincourt, the young French Duke of Orleans was captured and confined in the Tower of London for many years. During his captivity, he wrote many poems to his wife. About sixty of these remain and have been preserved among the royal papers in the British Museum.
When printers came in use, a limited number of cards with verses and sketches began to be produced. However, these were smaller and costlier than the handmade cards which were oversized but economical and elaborate.
By the 18th century, it became a common practice in England to exchange hand-made cards on Valentine’s Day. People began to create valentine cards for their sweethearts by themselves out of lace or ribbons, and featuring cupids and hearts.
Gradually, the American colonies took on the tradition. But it was only during the 1840’s that Valentine’s Day greeting cards began to be commercially produced in the U.S. The first American Valentine’s Day greeting cards were created by Esther A. Howland, a Mount Holyoke graduate and native of Worcester, Mass. Regarded as the “Mother of the Valentine,” Howland made elaborate “Valentine” cards with real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures known as “scrap”. It was only with Howland’s mass production of the Valentine cards that the custom gained popularity in the United States.
With a reduction in postal rates in the early 19th century, the production of Valentines got a greater thrust. It also helped establish the custom of sending anonymous messages or cards to those one admired.
In the 21st century, Valentine’s Day has become one of the major holidays in the world, especially in the U.S. where it has spawned a multimillion dollar greeting card industry. As per a survey by the Greeting Card Association, 25% of all cards sent each year in the U.S. are “Valentine’s.” This is another evidence of the ever increasing popularity of the “Valentines,” that are seen by many as an extension of the old love letters.
A message of love is what the “Valentine” is. Try sending one to your special someone on this Valentine’s Day.
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