Cupid’s Calling Cards: The enduring legacy of Valentines

For years vintage Christmas and Halloween collectibles have been in the forefront of acceptability in the world of proudly held collections. Now Valentine’s Day is vying for equal attention from the great holiday collections of the world.

The history of Valentine’s Day can be traced back several centuries. The historical value of the valentine card is definitely worthwhile. The poetry, artistry and materials of an era gone by are important as they represent the card’s evolution through the ages.
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Dimensional style from the 1920s, comes in pink and blue or possibly another color. This card is one in a series. It measures: 8 1/2 inches high by 11 inches long by 3 inches deep.

While the “billets doux” of Feb. 14 are not as marshmallow sweet, they have evolved into a much more clever, amusing and sophisticated card form. This form took hold in the 1920s and still continues through today. Manufacturers combine the virtues of paper lace and celluloid valentines of the Golden Era with the penny dreadful caricatures, without the sting, and the end result is a fabulous representation of a new century of cards.

Every year card companies would plan their strategy according to the climate of current events, from the war, to the Depression, to the modern stylings of the 1970s. Even though they did not change the world of the financial depression of the 1930s, or stop the wars in the future, they brought comic relief and added a bit of romance to an ever-changing way of life. Bright vivid colors, sleek art deco lines, and themes of transportation and occupations abound.

This time of year you can stroll through any antique marketplace and find that elusive little basket filled with valentine cards costing 50 cents to several dollars.10 valentine AT 2-13.jpg The more advanced you become in collecting, the more discerning your taste is likely to become. The philosophy of collecting valentine cards is very similar to that of the postcard collector.

For example, if you are collecting Santa postcards and each Santa has a different colored robe, a value would be placed on that card accordingly. The valentine world is not any different. You could have two valentine cards with the same primary motif in the back ground, but one might have a dog on it and the other one might have a grouping of children. Once again values are placed accordingly.

The age old debate of value is still swirling around every antique in the marketplace today and will continue for decades to come. Valentine card values are the same. Since the Internet put the world at everyone’s fingertips the change in values are evolving on a daily basis. It is good to know there are a few constant factors that will never change when evaluating values to place on your cards. From the elitist to the beginner, you can take this to the bank, the constants are:

1. Age
2. Condition
3. Category
4. Manufacturer
5. Size
6. Rarity

Variety of card styles are also constant:

Dimensional: Has at least two pop-out layers but can be multi-layered.

Greeting card:
This is the type of card most of us remember growing up. You open the page and inside will be a verse.

Flat: Usually imprinted on a thicker card stock one or both sides – some of you will remember this type of card from grade school, especially during the 1940s-1960s.

Has one or more moving parts.

Novelty: Cards that have a playful or useful item attached or incorporated into the card such as perfume, linen hankies, puzzles, etc.

As your collection grows, the next step is to maintain your cards in a proper manner. The operative word here is “acid-free.” Everything should be acid-free, from mending tissue to storage boxes. Plastic sleeves are not recommended for paper, as paper needs to breath. For short term storage plastic sleeves are fine. 2 valentine AT 2-13.jpgFor long term storage, though, you need to use the acid-free storage boxes, layering your pieces with an acid-free bond paper.

Howdy Doody television card, mechanical-flat, 1950s, 7 1/2 inches by 4 1/4 inches.

Always keep your cards out of direct sunlight. With a little bit of care these wonderful treasures will last for many years to come.

Restoration is another important aspect in card preservation.

If done properly using the correct materials, this is perfectly acceptable. As you start to study the valentine you will see good repairs and poor repairs. Be wary: In this day and age of computer generated images you can be easily fooled. Study the card closely, let your senses be your guide. By touching and smelling the paper you can discern between antique paper and computer generated images imprinted on computer paper.

One frequently asked question is: Can I frame my card? The six constants play into this answer. The experienced collector usually does not want to purchase a piece they cannot touch or examine. There are too many flaws that can be hidden under glass. Therefore, if you have a premier piece, framing it is not suggested. If you have a sentimental card that perhaps is not in perfect condition, though, framing it will not detract from its value but only add to your enjoyment of sharing it with family and friends.

Over the years greeting card companies have closed down and there have been stacks of cards that flooded the marketplace that have never been circulated. 4 valentine AT 2-13.jpgNaturally, if one of these cards cross the block it will go for a hefty price.

Multi-dimensional, made in Germany, 7 1/2 inches high 7 inches long by 4 inches wide, circa early 1900s.

During this time of year people always want to know if they can erase the name off the back of the card. Many people believe a valentine is not a valentine until it is written on and given to someone. This is what Valentine’s Day is all about: the sharing of your love with someone special. It is suggested you just sign your name on the back of the card, along with the other name, put the current date and, right before your eyes you have created an heirloom. If you choose to erase the signature this does not raise the value of the card. It is recommended you keep your card in original condition, exactly as you found it.

Valentine collecting is one of the most interesting and diverse collectibles in the field of collecting today. The field is so wide open — from valentine hankies, vintage vases to vintage candy boxes. One of the best assets of collecting valentine cards is that they do not take up much room. It seems today is all about downsizing; even with this trend you can keep on collecting these tokens of love.

For most card collectors Valentine’s Day is every day of the year. Just because Valentine’s Day is on Feb. 14 does not mean the collecting stops there. A true collector is always on the lookout for that special piece to add to their collection. There are many series of cards that collectors try to complete, or they are looking for a particular artist. Building a collection depends as much on personal taste and interest as historic value. 5 valentine AT 2-13.jpgValentine cards from any decade are worth saving, from robots to ice cream scoops, the quest is never ending.

Leap Year card, reads on the side of oven: “It’s Leap Year let me cook for you!” mechanical-flat, 7 1/2 inches high by 6 inches wide.

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, so why not start collecting today? Instead of purchasing a new valentine card, why not go out and find a special antique valentine for the one you love? Think about their collecting interests or, if they are not a collector, what do they like? There is a card waiting out there with their name on it. Paper cards are very ephemeral, especially today with all the e-cards. This is recycling at its best!

For a few dollars – or hundreds of dollars – you can help preserve a lost art in society at the same time as you are giving a very special token of love, and this year is an extra special year – it’s leap year. Yes, there are leap year valentine cards.

Valentines: trash or treasure? Obviously treasure!

About the author: Katherine Kreider is a recognized authority, author, dealer and appraiser in the field of valentine preservation. She has collected and archived antique valentines for the last 35 years and has a premier privately held collection. Her efforts have been showcased on Antiques Roadshow, FYI, Martha Stewart Living TV,Kovels Antique TV, The Wall Street Journal, The San Francisco Examiner, Money Magazine, Country Living Magazine, The Antique Journal, Antiques Today and Renningers Newspaper, just to mention a few.

Kreider has also made appearances on many radio programs.

She is the author of three books on antique valentine cards. Members of the Ephemera Society of America, Katherine and her husband David own and operate Kingsbury Antiques in Adamstown, Pa., located within Stoudt’s Black Angus Antiques Center, booth #315, open every Sunday throughout the year. Write to: Katherine Kreider, PO Box 7957, Lancaster, PA 17604. Phone 717-892-3001 or e-mail: Web site: