How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Hairs

Valentine’s Day will soon be upon us, and, depending on your perspective (and Facebook status), you may regard it as a hint from Cupid’s bow or a hit for Hallmark’s coffers.
When a text is just too tacky, or you can’t find a good $6.95 greeting card, it might be time to look to the past for a more thoughtful missive.

According to Wikipedia, the History Channel, and every article written ever since, the oldest known Valentine still in existence is housed in a British museum. Written in the Middle Ages by a 21-year-old French nobleman, imprisoned in the Tower of London, to his 11-year-old child bride, it reads:

My very gentle valentine
Since for me you were born too soon
And I for you was born too late
God forgive him who becomes estranged
Me from you for the whole year
I am already sick of love
My very gentle valentine.

By the time he was 20, he’d been strategically wooing women of certain bloodlines and still was no closer to conquering Burgundy.

Despite its European roots, the mass exchange of paper greetings was actually an American innovation. Vintage valentines, called ephemera, are prized collectibles today. From friendly greetings to fervent confessions of desire, many are good for a laugh and can still be found in local antique shops for a few dollars.

Here are some varietals to look for:

Lock-of-Hair Holders

An intimate gesture that literally gives them a piece of you. A young maid might have tucked a few tresses into the Forget-Me-Not card, shown here, to delight a departing soldier. You can try this yourself with your beloved, but remember: no extensions.

Folded Love Tokens

These fanciful, hand-tinted collage-style cards were trimmed with lace, ribbons, cutouts, poetry, and perforations.

Cobweb Cards

When recipients lifted these cards, delicate spirals formed a cage to reveal a hidden message.

Die-Cut Pop-Ups

Opening the cover caused a carriage, cupids, birds or banners to suddenly spring to life.

Vinegar Valentines

Playful, sarcastic, mocking, or shaming, these were often sent anonymously. It was fun to guess the sender, discover hidden images, solve a riddle, or decode a message. Here’s one addressed to a show-off:

You claim you’re good at anything!
So, come on, show some proof
And let me see how good you are
At jumping off the roof!!!

You may not have been planning to send a Valentine to your ex or ex-boss, but a vinegar valentine lets you be the victor in Victorian.

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