Unknown, “Love Protects”, American Antiquarian Society.

Valentines in the American Antiquarian Society’s Collection

There are over 230 institutions that have contributed historical materials to Digital Commonwealth’s online collections. These institutions have selected materials that they have determined would be appropriate to enhance the whole of what is available on the Digital Commonwealth website. But in many cases, the collection or collections that they have elected to share with Digital Commonwealth are only a taste of their entire holdings.

The American Antiquarian Society is a perfect example. “The AAS library today houses the largest and most accessible collection of books, pamphlets, broadsides, newspapers, periodicals, music, and graphic arts material printed through 1876 in what is now the United States, as well as manuscripts and a substantial collection of secondary texts, bibliographies, and digital resources and reference works related to all aspects of American history and culture before the twentieth century.” AAS selected 140 maps not duplicated in Boston Public Library’s Leventhal Map Center collection, out of their 10,000 maps, to be made available as a Digital Commonwealth collection.

That said, “the American Antiquarian Society has a collection of over 3,000 valentines ranging in date from the 1830’s to 1900. The collection includes both manuscript and printed designs, with a strong representation of locally-produced cards made in Worcester.” AAS has created an online exhibition, “Making Valentines: A Tradition in American.”, providing an overview of their extensive collection. “Victorian Valentines: Intimacy in the Industrial Age”, a collaborative student project between AAS and the Smith College Department of Art, provides an additional opportunity to explore the collection.

Worcester was the home of two of the pioneers in the production of commercial valentine cards in the nineteenth century.

Esther Howland (1828-1904) was considered the “Mother of the Valentine.” Howland was a cousin of Emily Dickinson; she set up her business in a workroom in her family home. With the help of a number of local girls, her business thrived for 30 years, with sales of $75,000 per year.

“True Love” with Piper. Worcester:Esther Howland, ca. 1860.

Another Worcester native, George Whitney established a valentine manufacturing company that prospered from 1866 to 1942. It was considered one of the largest valentine publishers in this country, with offices in New York, Boston and Chicago.

Sentimental Lace Valentine Box Lid. George C. Whitney (mfg)

A portion of AAS’s valentine collection includes a sub-genre, the comic valentine, also known as the Vinegar Valentine. “In sharp contrast to the sweet and sentimental valentine, caricatures were often cruel and the humor venomous, expressing everything by love.” “Lyre (liar)” is an example of this kind of valentine.

Lyre (liar) Nineteenth Century Comic Valentine

By the end of the nineteenth century, the Boston lithograph firm, Louis Prang & Company, was also in the greeting card business. “Commissioning the country’s best illustrators and creating design competitions, Prang sold beautiful cards that were unmatched for years. He also created fun and interesting cards for almost every holiday of the year,” including Valentine cards.

Advertisement for Prang’s Valentine Cards Library of Congress Prints & Photographs
A Valentine. L. Prang & Co., lithographer, 1888.

On this February 14, 2024, we wish you a Happy Valentine’s Day.

Barbara Schneider, Member, Digital Commonwealth Outreach Committee

All Images courtesy American Antiquarian Society, unless otherwise noted.

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