This Valentine’s Day, many people will reach for modern mass-produced cards. We predict the ones with pop culture phenomenon Baby Yoda saying “Yoda one for me” will be particularly popular.
Not to knock Baby Yoda because that is a sweet card, but why give someone the same one hundreds of other people will get when you can give something that’s one-of-a-kind? How often do you see Cupid riding on the back of a bird looking for people to shoot with his love arrow? Or one with a dustpan and a girl in a maid’s outfit asking, “Dust think thou could love me?” That’s cute stuff.
Many collectors already know this, of course, and enjoy hunting for vintage cards and postcards every Valentine’s Day that have original romantic sentiments, as well as beautiful artwork.
According to the Greeting Card Association, Valentine’s Day is the second most popular card-sending holiday (Christmas is tops). There are thousands of affordable antique and vintage cards and postcards you can find online and in antiques shops in different varieties, whether you want one with a sincere or humorous sentiment to give to a special valentine, or want to keep yourself for your collection.
While postcards can make you long for bygone days, a lot of vintage cards can bring back nostalgic memories of exchanging valentines in grade school and the excitement of wondering if you were going to get one from that cute boy or girl you liked, or if that special someone would like the one you worked up the nerve to give to them.
Tonia North, who has been collecting and selling postcards for 17 years, vouched that Valentine’s Day is popular with collectors and she sells a lot of postcards this time of year at her shop, North Star Antiques, in Lowell, MI, and online at the shop’s website, northstarantiques211.com. She also has online stores at Ruby Lane and eBay.
North noted that women especially will also decorate with vintage valentines in observance of the holiday. She said the Valentine’s postcards that catch a collector’s eye the most are ones with animals, children, and those printed by John Winsch that feature the splendid art of Samuel Schmucker. Winsch and Schmucker were a dynamic duo in the postcard business and their postcards are highly collectible and valuable in general, especially for Schmucker’s artistry. Some Winsch-Schmucker postcards can easily sell for hundreds of dollars. Other postcards with appealing artistry, North said, are those that were done by Ellen Clapsaddle, whose charming style is greatly admired by collectors, and who today is recognized as one of the most prolific postcard and greeting card artists of her era.
“These postcards are miniature works of art and go far beyond something you just display. The artistry is just beautiful,” North said.
According to antiques and collectibles expert Terry Kovel, Esther Howland is the first person credited with the commercial mass-production of valentines in the mid-1800s in Worcester, Massachusetts. The fancy handmade cards she created of paper, lace and ribbons and pasted together are desirable to collectors and sell for a lot of money. Kovel said that the most valuable valentines in general have clever sentiments and designs, and collectors also look for ones that relate to news of the day or that are signed by someone significant. Also popular are Victorian three-dimensional valentines that feature die-cut images and open into three-dimensional views. Later versions from the early 1900s with folded honeycomb paper that pops open are also valuable. Some collectors also look for die-cut school-type valentines from the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s, and mechanical valentines with moving parts from the 1950s.
North noted that one of the dealers who searches for postcards for her recently brought in a mechanical valentine from around 100 years ago.
“It’s so hard to believe that this intricately designed postcard was created in the horse-and-buggy days and has survived for 100 years,” she said.
Each era had its own themes and styles, and collectors often choose to focus their efforts on one particular time period or motif. Early Victorian valentines, 1850-1880, include greetings with silk fabric and ribbon, hand-painted designs, flowers and leaves made of silk or paper. Later Victorian valentines, 1880s-1900, feature lithographs and common motifs of cherubs, hearts, flowers and birds. Valentines from the 1900s-1930s started being designed in the shape of animals, children and other objects, and art also became more detailed and varied. Cards also started featuring modern inventions including telephones and radios, movie stars of the era, and timely themes like women’s suffrage and World War I. From the1940s-1960s, trends included cars and other vehicles, World War II, space travel, and mechanical cards that moved when you pulled or pushed on a part.
There are many places online to find antique and vintage Valentine’s greetings including eBay, Etsy, Ruby Lane, and The Internet Antique Shop. Cards and postcards at these sites cover a variety of themes and date from the mid-1800s to the 1980s, and range in price from 49 cents to hundreds of dollars, depending on rarity and condition, and if created by someone notable. You can also pop into your local antiques shop and see if they carry any.
North said the most common price for vintage valentines is $5 to $12-$15 and cards in this range go the fastest because there’s a collectors’ market for them. This affordable amount can get you a card made by a notable name, such as Clapsaddle, along with stellar artistry.
North, who has in excess of 50,000 postcards in her inventory, said she got into the hobby after she inherited her mother’s collection, which included postcards her grandmother collected as well. She didn’t know anything about postcards, but set out learning all she could about them and started collecting more, and then eventually started selling them.
She noted that many people may not know that postcard collecting is the third-largest hobby in the world, and the popularity can be credited to their broad subject appeal. Almost any subject imaginable has been, at some time, portrayed on a postcard, she said. Even if people don’t outright collect postcards, they can still enjoy them, whether its a picture postcard with a view of a town they grew up in or one that has a horse theme on it for the equestrian; someone who has a Harley Davidson would also get a kick out of an old postcard featuring one of the first ones made.
“Postcards are a cross-over collectible that can appeal to anyone. I have never found anyone who is not enamored by postcards once you start talking to them about the history and showing them all the different ones they can get,” North said. “I just fell in love with them. We sell other things, too, but postcards are our one true love.”
Kris Manty is a content editor for Antique Trader and manages the Facebook page. Among the things she’s fond of are pulp paperbacks, vintage ads, clothing and jewelry, and everything Mid-Century Mod, especially her small collection of funky lamps with those big fiberglass shades. She has more than 20 years of experience in the antiques and collectibles field, including editing more than 100 books on various collecting topics. Drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.