As I stayed up last night making valentines for my first grader to take to school today for his classmates, I thought about valentines of yore. These days children's valentines are often store-bought cards with cartoon characters and candy, and adults peruse the card aisle to choose between silly or sappy. Our nineteenth-century ancestors didn't shun store-bought valentines either -- printed valentine postcards were very popular and had some wonderful designs (and are now collectible). Children were more likely to use homemade cards, and many adults, too, made their own valentines with paper, doilies, fabric, flowers, and poetic verse.
In celebration of the day, the Maine Historical Society has created an online slideshow of a few old valentines from its collection. One was particularly sweet. This fringed fabric valentine was sent by Captain Alonzo Soule of Portland to his wife Deborah (Orr) in 1882, and has the inscription, "From my heart, I wish you happiness." Alonzo and Deborah had been married for nearly twenty years and had nine children. Alonzo was captain of the Fannie H. Loring and was lost at sea the following year. Perhaps this was the last valentine she received from him, and that's why she saved it.
More about valentines:
Making Valentines: A Tradition in America, an online exhibit by the American Antiquarian Society