History of Valentine’s Day
When we think of Valentine’s Day we don’t automatically think of Great Britain in the nineteenth-century. However, it was in Great Britain in the nineteenth-century that the sending of Valentine cards became a fashion. This cottage industry of card making and sending for Valentine’s Day was soon viewed as a possible commercial enterprise.
Esther Howland too was an ordinary woman living in Worcester, Massachusetts. However, Esther had a keen eye for business and so it was that in 1847 Esther established a very successful home based business making Valentine Cards. Many women today who aspire to being self employed in their own business need look no further for inspiration than Esther Howland. Esther used the British card models to design and fashion her Valentine Cards. Esther had identified a commercial niche in the market and filled it with her beautiful cards. What an inspiration Esther remains today, at a time when many women were expected to know their place, Esther struck a blow for women and their rights to equality and freedom.
America which is world famous today for its hello and goodbye greetings, “You have a nice day now”, was no different in the 19th century. The Valentine’s card become very popular in 19th Century America and its commercialisation just went from strength to strength. Indeed it is fair to say that the Valentine Card introduced in America by Esther was the fore runner to the array of general greeting cards found now in America for all and every occasion. The Valentine cards were the blue print for the commercialisation of all American holidays, where people now exchange cards and greetings as a way of saying thanks. Each year across the world there are approximately one billion Valentine’s cards exchanged, who could ever have imagined that. With cards selling for anything from $1 to $50 + this is big business indeed. Indeed Valentine ’s Day is only out done by Christmas in the card sales industry. When one adds to card sales the sales of romantic dinners, wine, fancy underwear, chocolates, teddy bears and so on and so forth this is certainly a mass market at an otherwise commercially quiet time of the year.
It is also worth noting that study after study shows that men spend twice as much on Valentine’s Day as women do. One wonders why this is. It is also worth noting that in 1797, fifty years before Esther Howland launched her card business, a British publisher had issued The Young Man’s Valentine Writer. This booklet contained dozens of verses and romantic lyrics for those young men who could not find their own words to describe their feelings for the woman they loved. One wonders if the publication of such a book in 1797 suggests that men may be the ones that treat Valentine’s Day with the seriousness it deserves.
It is also worth noting that during this period when postage was so expensive most cards were delivered by hand. Later of course with the advent of the penny stamp postage system, cards could be sent by post. This of course was less personal and lacked the face to face contact and hand touching of the previous century.
Esther was not the only one to tap into the commercialisation of Valentine cards, indeed numerous cards were being produced with drawings and verse. The printing presses could now mass produce cards and these were known as ‘mechanical valentines’. So now we had mass production and cheaper postage, and human kind being what it is meant that cards could now be sent anonymously by post. It also meant that the prudish Victorian caution was gone and cards became sauceier. It was now possible to send a card containing a saucy verse and drawing to the person you may simply have fancied.
Today of course things have gone a step further. The introduction of the Internet has seen an explosion in the number of greetings and exchanges between people from different continents and cultures. Cyber space is the new meeting place for millions of people. Not only do people now meet and exchange greetings on the internet but they can meet their life partner on the net. Saint Valentine would be happy that so many people honour his name with love and friendly greetings.
The man himself was a Christian Martyr; he was a Priest in Rome who was murdered around the year 269 AD. Saint Valentine is laid to rest in Dublin, Ireland. His relics are interred at the Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church. They were presented as a gift to the Carmalite Order from Pope Gregory xvi in 1835.