Island shop owner has deep affection for card collection
In typical Victorian style, romantic messages were sent on extremely elaborate, very delicate and intricate cards on Valentine’s Day. Though delicate, they have withstood the test of time, making the tokens of affections sought after and highly collectible.
Christine Solis, owner of Somewhere in Time Antiques on The Strand in Galveston, has a personal collection of vintage valentines numbering in the hundreds. Her favorite ones are those handmade during the late 1800s, some with very personal messages and photos inside, she said.
Valentine’s Day greetings have been celebrated for hundreds of years in different formats. The oldest known valentine still in existence was a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orléans, to his wife. He was imprisoned at the time in the Tower of London and his message is now part of a collection in the British Library. But decades earlier, the English poet Geoffrey Chaucer, writer of “The Canterbury Tales,” determined St. Valentine’s Day as a day of romantic celebration in his 1375 poem, “The Parliament of Foules,” a 699-line poem about birds choosing their mates. It describes birds that gather together in the early spring — on ‘seynt valentynes day’ — to choose their mates for the year, according to historians.
Solis’ cards are embossed with layers of lacy paper and images of cupids. They came in a variety of sizes, from very small to more than 18 inches in height. The larger ones had intricate fold-out details, many using the geometric honeycomb paper to emphasize the design, such as a heart or wheel on a carriage.
“These are little snippets of history,” said Solis, who has been collecting the antique valentines for more than 40 years. “They are sentimental and it is amazing that a paper product so delicate as these could survive so long. Valentines are not this fancy anymore.”
Many of the old cards were printed in Germany. Sending cards in the mail in the United States got a boost in the mid-1800s after Congress voted to decrease postage rates to avoid the privatization of the postal service. And with the advent of printing during the Industrial Revolution, it became less costly to produce cards. The first American valentine was printed in 1849 by Esther Howland, the daughter of a stationer in Worcester, Massachusetts, and Hallmark began printing and mass producing the cards in 1915.
Valentine cards are exchanged more than any other card, with the possible exception of Christmas greetings.
Some of Solis’ cards are signed and formal: “To Mr. Diehl, from Bessie Oliver” on an elaborate card with kissing cupids and a large fantasy carriage. Another is a 3-D card shaped like a ship with 14 sails billowing and tiny roses adorning the masts, with the message “To the One I Love.” One of her favorites is “From Mother to Billie,” with perforated butterflies and flowers encircling two little girls holding a heart on a background of blue flowers and cutouts.
Some of the other early valentines have mechanical arms and legs that move like puppets while others have comical faces with eyes that dart left and right.
“Even though these are written on, they still are special,” Solis said.