31 January 2020

S.W.A.L.K

According to the Greeting Cards Association, lovers in the UK send over a billion Valentine's day cards each year, and that's not including all of the flowers,  chocolates and romantic gifts they shower on their secret crushes and partners. Love hearts, cute fluffy animals and romance are found in abundance, but one theory on the origins of this day are a lot more x-rated.

There was nothing fluffy bunny about February 14th in ancient Rome. During the festival of Lupercalia, animals were sacrificed, and drunken men would run amok, whipping women with thongs; it was believed that receiving a lashing would make the recipient more fertile. The jury is out as to whether or not Valentine's day stems from such debauchery, or simply because February is the month that birds begin to look for a mate, it's origins are still cloaked in mystery. Even the identity of the real St Valentine is debatable because there were several Saint Valentines who could have been the cupid responsible for our most romantic greeting card occasion. 

The Valentine most often associated with the 14th February hailed from Rome during the third Century and is the patron saint of love and beekeeping. A man of the cloth who secretly married couples to save the grooms from being sent to war. These acts were in defiance of the Emperor's orders, and he was sent to jail. While languishing in prison, he sent a love letter to his jailer's daughter, signed with the immortal words - From your Valentine. Whether this is true or not, the myth endures, it's a romantic one and his feast day of February 14th has withstood the academic scrutiny.

The sending of actual cards can be dated back to the 18th Century. Before the invention of the printing press, lovers would handcraft their loving greetings decorating them with hearts, flowers, puzzles and poems. Some of these creations were simply stunning, origami 'puzzle purses' decorated with exquisite lettering and painted decorations. 

19th Century puzzle purse - anonymous

Not only were they made by hand, before the introduction of the penny post in Britain, Valentine's cards were sent by hand too to avoid the recipient picking up the postal charges. Lovers would deliver their declarations of love in secret, slipping them under the door or tying them to the door knocker. But not all Valentine's cards were so loving and romantic and the trend for sending 'Vinegar Valentine's' was also popular. Printed by stationers on cheap paper, these messages were sent to hated lovers bearing insults and cruel caricatures. And to add insult to injury, the recipient had to pay the postage!

With the introduction of modern printing methods , the sending of Valentine's cards became even more popular. It is estimated that around 200,000 Valentines were sent in London alone. The trend also travelled across the Atlantic during the 19th Century and really took off when the Hall Brothers (predecessor to Hallmark Cards) produced their first Valentine card in 1913. 

Whatever the origins of Valentine's day, sending a token of love to that special person still makes our hearts flutter. It's an analogue tradition tailor made for L'amour. So dip you quill in some ink, seal with a loving kiss and deliver in upmost secret.

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