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valentine cupidThe History of Valentine Cards: How Do I Love Thee?
by Marjorie Dorfman

Most of the modern world knows of Valentinius, aka St. Valentine, the martyred saint for whom the holiday of lovers is named. How many of us, however, know about the custom of sending valentine cards? Where did that come from and why do we still do it? Read on for some light-hearted information and, hopefully, a few laughs as well.

Here's some tips that we put to good use.

The very first valentine ever sent in the history of the world is associated with St. Valentine himself, who left a note for the jailer’s blind daughter before being executed by King Claudius II, also known affectionately as Claudius The Cruel. The king was mad at St. Valentine because he secretly married soldiers in the Roman legions against his express royal wishes. "From your Valentine," the note read, as Valentinius was led away to a death by stoning, and passed into the annals of love, sop, sentimentality and posterity.

St. Valentine was martyred on February 14 around the year 270 AD, and by all accounts, was a chaste and dutiful servant of his Lord. (His connection with Eros is, therefore, even more ironic than interesting.) In any case, the custom of sending valentine cards persisted well into the Middle Ages, when lovers said or sang their verses of love to one another. Considering that most people bathed about once a month in those days, it’s a wonder lovers managed to stand next to each other, much less make love and sing praises.

saint valentine In England, around 1400, written valentines, which were given in place of actual gifts began to appear in the form of paper notes. Printing wasn't possible then, so they were nothing like today's
cheap brochures. Constructed of colored paper and designed by hand, many were beautifully painted with watercolors and colored inks. The oldest valentine in existence, which is currently in the British Museum, dates back to the 15th century. It depicts a knight and a lady, with Cupid in the act of sending an arrow to pierce the knight’s heart. (Might be a difficult task even for Eros, if the gentleman is still wearing his armor!)

In France, a young Charles, Duke of Orleans, was one of the earliest creators of what was known in his day as "poetical or amorous addresses." From his sojourn in the Tower of London after the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 (no Hilton Hotel by any stretch of the mind), he sent several poems of love to his anxious wife in France.

Hand-made valentines were made in many different ways. Acrostics had verses in which the first lines spelled out the loved one’s name. Cutouts were made by folding paper and cutting out a lace-like design with very sharp scissors. Pinprick valentines simulated the look of lace by pricking tiny holes in the paper with a pin or needle. From the Orient came valentines known as Theorems or Poonah, which were created by painting designs through a stencil cut in oilpaper. Rebus valentines carried verses in which tiny pictures replaced words. An eye would replace an I, for example. It could be said that the eyes have it, but this has nothing at all to do with the expression "an eye 4 an eye," or the battle cry of three Famous Frenchmen of 1 for all and all for 1! (Aye!)

special valentinePuzzle Purse valentines, (possibly designed by the annoying ancestors of Mr. Will Shortz of New York Times crossword puzzle fame), were actually puzzles that could be folded and re-folded. Hidden among the folds were verses that had to be read in a certain order. Fraktur valentines were known for their ornamental lettering, which was done in the style of the illuminated manuscripts of The Middle Ages (for the more discriminating and pious valentine senders and sendees).

handmade valentineAll of the above mentioned cards were entirely hand-made, and that fashion didn’t change until the early 1800s when valentines began to be assembled in factories. The earlier ones were black and white pictures that were painted by the factory workers. Real lace and ribbons adorned fancier valentines, and in the mid-1800s, paper lace was introduced.

Let romance bloom and run wild on Valentine's Day.

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Don't miss this excellent book:

The Very Special Valentine

by Maggie Kneen, Christine Tagg

Very Special Valentine

One of the sweetest, most beautifully illustrated books ever. The message is about love and nature being better gifts than material items. Bunny Gray wants to find a special valentine for his friend, Rosie. On each page, there is a flap to lift. Each flap has cutouts with metallic foil insets, which appears to be some sort of precious gem which Bunny Gray thinks might make a good gift for Rosie. When the flap is lifted, you see that the shiny objects are actually something lovely from nature.

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