St. Valentine’s Day is a day to show your feelings of love and friendship. Children and grown-ups send nice, sweet valentines that can brighten up someone’s day. Roses are Red, Violets are Blue…
But valentines were not always nice and sweet. “Comic” valentines were filled with hateful insults. The sender got a thrill from seeing their target devastated by what was written in these fake valentines. These seemed to be pretty popular in the late 19th Century, according to newspaper reports.
The Davenport Gazette printed an example of a “comic” valentine that was sent to the editor of the newspaper in 1865. It had a picture that represented a printer in the act of “locking” a “form”, and was accompanied by a poem that read:
“Of all the professions, military and civil,
The only one you’re fit for is plain to be seen;
You look so very much like the spirit of evil,
That the Devil call you printer from the very first, I ween.
So pick away at metal, peg away at chases
And after awhile you and Satan may change places.”
Ouch! That one might not seem too harsh, considering the recipient, but that’s the only one that was fit to print. I can’t image the mean things people were sending to each other back then.
The popularity of Valentine’s Day had a lot of ups and down in the late 19th Century. In the 1860s, the holiday was mostly ignored by the grown-ups and left to the children. It picked up in popularity again in 1870, when 3,000 valentines were mailed in Davenport. But in 1875 only about 800 valentines were mailed. Davenport was a “Carrier City”, so valentines needed to have a two cent stamp or they would end up in the dead letter office. Rock Island had no carriers, so the cost to mail valentines was one cent. By 1890, the genuine valentines had almost but disappeared, while the “comic” valentines were still being condemned by the papers.
Around the turn of the 20th Century, Valentine’s Day started to become what it is now. Harned & Von Maur advertised novelties in Valentines ranging in prices up to $1.50. By 1910 postal cards had become the norm and the “comic” valentines had almost but disappeared.
There was nothing funny about those hurtful valentines. Let’s hope we don’t see resurgence in this despicable practice in our lifetimes. I would much rather eat chocolates.
Davenport Daily Gazette: 14Feb1860, p. 1; 15Feb1865, p. 4; 14Feb1870, p. 4; 15Feb1870, p. 4; 14Feb 1875, p. 8; 12Feb1877, p. 4
Davenport Morning Tribune: 14Feb1890, p. 4
Davenport Daily Leader: 7Feb1897, p. 2
Davenport Daily Republican: 14Feb1900, p. 8
Davenport Democrat: 14Feb1910, p. 10