In the Georgian period and the beginning of the Regency in the UK, sending your loved one—and it was a custom reserved mainly for lovers rather than family or friends—a Valentine’s Day card required a certain amount of effort. Mass-produced valentines didn’t appear until around 1820.
Cards were sent by all classes of society, which, considering the somewhat prohibitive cost of a single piece of paper, shows both dedication and devotion to the cause of love. The most common themes were flowers, naturally, followed by cupids, hearts, and birds. A card might even be trimmed with real lace, as paper lace hadn’t yet been mass-produced, be gilt edged, and have a gold overlay or sequins.
Some people wrote their own clever verses, puzzles, or poems, while others used famous contemporary poets or Shakespearian sonnets. If you were really short of ideas, there were publications, including Kemmish’s Annual and Universal Valentine Writer, offering ready-made verses or riddles.
Getting your missive delivered could be somewhat problematic because before the postal system was standardized, the person who received the card had to pay for it. This meant that if you lived in London and your sweetheart was in Edinburgh, things might get a bit pricy, and she might never speak to you again. Luckily, in 1840, the introduction of both mass-produced cards and the universal penny post happened, which made sending greetings easier and less expensive.
To see some beautiful examples of Georgian-era cards, please take a look at the Louis Grunin Collection, which was sold in an auction.
The British post office archive also holds a lot of very interesting information about early valentines, including complaints to the secretary of the post office, Sir Francis Freeling, in the 1830s about having to pay for receiving them. This wasn’t just because of the expense. Not all sentiments were nice or welcome, and many were sent anonymously, meaning the receiver had to pay to be insulted. These became known as vinegar valentines. There are some great articles about Valentine’s Day on The British Postal Museum & Archive Blog.
There was also a lot of concern about the increased volume of correspondence on Valentine’s Day itself
“It may be necessary to mention that on or about St. Valentine’s Day, there is a most extraordinary influx of many thousand letters—to the two penny post in particular … even former years we have had an addition of 50, or 60,000 letters, consequently every possible exertion is necessary on our part to prevent delay and interruption to the general mass of correspondence”.
(I remember when I lived in a small university town in Wales, all us big-city people sent out our valentines the day before, only to find they had been delivered promptly the same day with the second post. I doubt that happens anymore.)
The British Postal Museum and Archive also has in its collection the oldest card in the postal service from 1790. It is known as a rebus or a puzzle purse and is made out of one intricately folded piece of paper, which needs to be unfolded correctly to read the verses concealed within it. The postal heritage site has a wonderful video of an intricate spiral card that rises up like a birdcage. I can’t imagine the amount of work someone put into that.
In our world of mass-produced goods, I find the idea of crafting my own unique valentines quite enticing. And even if I sent it anonymously, the lucky recipient wouldn’t have to pay for it but could just enjoy the moment.
About the Author
Catherine Lloyd was born just outside London, England, into a large family of dreamers, artists, and history lovers. She completed her education with a master’s degree in history at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, and uses the skills she gained there to research and write her historical mysteries. Catherine currently lives in Hawaii with her husband and four children.Visit her online at is Catherine-Lloyd.com and at the social platform below.
Delighted by the quiet uproar of raising their newborn, Lady Lucy and Major Sir Robert Kurland could not be more pleased at the prospect of welcoming another into their home. But their preparations are soon overshadowed by a baffling case of murder.
Once known to all in her village as the rector’s daughter, Lucy is now a mother herself—to a wonderful eighteen-month-old son, Ned. Upon discovering that she is expecting a second child, Lucy and Robert are delighted. In anticipation of the new arrival, Lucy is set on expanding her nursery staff. When Agnes, her current nurse, recommends her cousin, it seems like the perfect solution.
But trouble arrives along with the new nursery maid from London. Polly’s flirtations provoke fisticuffs in the servants’ hall and tumult in the village tavern, and on her afternoon off, she fails to return to the Kurland Estate. When a farmer finds her lifeless body in a drainage ditch, Lucy and Robert fear foul play.
To their consternation, they learn their new nursery maid was not who they thought. As Lucy’s sister Anna leaves the rectory and moves in to watch over Ned, the couple’s search for the truth leads them to the London theater world, where aristocrats purchase their mistresses, and into danger. But the real threat strikes all too close to home.