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Vintage Valentines

The Martha Stewart Show, February 2008

Fancy vintage valentine cards from the Victorian era will sell in the $25 to $100 range, depending how unusual they are. But not all cards are that expensive. Cards from the 1930s through 1950s can be found for $5 or less, as can vintage Valentine's Day postcards from the early 1900s.

Early Valentines were accessible only to the very wealthy; not just anyone could walk into a stationer and purchase one of these cards.

French Biedermeir Card, Circa 1820
Biedermier refers to work in the fields of literature, music, visual arts, and interior design between 1815 and the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1848. When this card moves, the couple kisses. Notice that the joints and pivot points are made of string and the card is hand-painted with watercolor. The number at the top indicated that it was one in a series.

Cobweb Card
This cobweb card is a very unusual card because of the variety of its materials, such as ribbon, printed paper, colored paper, and gold embossed trim. As you pull the ribbon, a courtship scene is revealed inside.

Blackboard Valentine
In the blackboard valentine, the most important element is the written message, which "magically" appears on the caulk board. It's also unique because no faces are seen, which is rare in valentines. This card is from around 1890.

Love's Telephone
This love's telephone card is from around 1880. As the new century approached, people were fascinated with new technology, including the invention of the telephone. As the wheel turns, you can see a variety of love messages. The rivet, which the wheel revolves around, is now made of steel instead of string.

Stand-Up Automobile
This stand-up automobile card dates to about 1910 and celebrates another invention that people were very excited about: the automobile. This card was meant to be opened and displayed for all to admire. The type is tiny, and the message is actually misspelled. It says "why dan't someone ask someone to be someone's valentine." This is because, like many of the cards, it was printed in Europe -- in this case, Germany.

Flower Girl
This flower girl card is from the early 1900s. The heart of flowers transforms into a girl in a costume of flowers! The rivets are made of copper, which you can see is staining the paper, and you can see the intricate mechanisms on the back of the card.

Girl and Dog
This girl and dog card is a simple pop-up from about 1910 with a nice surprise. It looks like a young couple sitting on a bench, but if you open it up, it is revealed that the girl is actually sitting with her dog -- under the ever-watchful eyes of her father.

Foxy Grandpa
The foxy grandpa card is a "jumping jack" card reminiscent of early wooden toys. A pull of a string reveals the grandfather's children -- and a bunny clinging to his leg. Rivets continue to improve from the early spiral version similar to push tacks used by children today to make pivot points.

Special Thanks
Special thanks to Robert Sabuda for sharing this information on vintage valentines, and to Matthew Reinhart for joining Martha to make a Pop-Up Valentine. Special thanks to both authors for giving our studio audience a copy of their pop-up books, "Cinderella: A Pop-Up Fairy Tale" and "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: A Pop-Up Adaptation."

Comments (2)

  • pickypeople 5 Feb, 2009

    Absolutely loved this segment. I am a collector of ephemera and these Valentine's are just wonderful. As always, thank you for the history

  • scrapergirl 25 Mar, 2008

    very sweet...........lots of card knowledge.