The History of Valentine’s Day – Who Knew?

When I was in elementary school in the mid twentieth century the Valentine’s Day tradition was to give virtually every kid in your class ( and your teacher) one of those cute little flat cards of the era. For our mothers and other special relatives we usually made hand made cards. It was lots of fun and I’m so thankful that so many people saved their cards so we can still enjoy them and collect them today.

1950s Valentine

 

But how did this all start? What is the origin of Valentine’s Day?

A Roman Valentine?

 

It started with the Romans. From Feb. 13 to 15, the Romans celebrated the feast of Lupercalia. The men sacrificed a goat then “whipped” women with the hides of the animals they had just slain.

Those wild and crazy Romans!

 
Young women would actually line up for the (usually drunk) men to hit them. They believed this would make them fertile.

A fancy Victorian Valentine

The ancient Romans may also be responsible for the name of this modern day of love. Emperor Claudius II executed two men — both named Valentine — on Feb. 14 of different years in the 3rd century A.D. Their martyrdom was honored by the Catholic Church with the celebration of St. Valentine’s Day.

What could be sweeter than the seven dwarves!

As the years went on, the holiday grew sweeter. Filled with stories of love. No more whippings with animal hides. Chaucer and Shakespeare romanticized the day in their work, and it gained popularity throughout Europe. Handmade paper cards became popular in the Middle Ages.


Eventually, the tradition made its way to America. With the industrial revolution of the 1800’s came factory made, but usually intricate time-intensive cards. 

Intricate 1800’s Victorian card

 And then, in 1913, Hallmark Cards of Kansas City, Mo., began mass producing Valentine’s Day cards. So this February 14th you can enjoy your chocolates, your flowers, your cards, but also a little Valentine’s Day history. Ah … love (and knowledge) is in the air …

An early Hallmark card

Carol Fenn 2-2017

Those Lovely Victorian Valentines!

Valentine’s Day cards were exchanged long before the Victorian era. But sending them was expensive and was reserved for the very wealthy. In 1840 with the birth of the Penny Post in Great Britain, now almost everyone could afford to send valentines through the mail. This brought forth the explosion of Victorian valentines! Unfortunately, due to their delicate nature, only a small percentage have survived. If you’re lucky enough to find one (or a few) cherish it as it has a wonderful history.  

Cupid toiling to make and deliver Valentine hearts

The beloved fold-outs

Here’s an interesting fun fact: When valentines could suddenly be sent for a penny, they were mailed in such great numbers that postmen were given a special allowance for fountain drinks to keep them refreshed in the days leading up to Valentine’s Day!

This little postman needs a fountain drink!

Early on, the majority of valentines were handmade by the giver, but advances in printing methods and the booming market soon led to the popularization of commercial valentines. There were hand-tinted lithographs, perforated laces, and embossed foils. A cottage industry of hand-crafted, much loved today, fold-out valentines also emerged. Whether they were store-bought or homemade, both the Victorians and the Edwardians proudly displayed the Valentines they received on their parlor tables for all to see.



Collecting valentines is a lot of fun. Many dealers will find and curate them all year long then bring them out for their customers in late January in preparation for the holiday. Here in the Mercantile you will find many vintage and Victorian valentines throughout the store. Come on in and start your collection!


Carol Fenn 1-2018 

Those 50s and 60s Vintage Valentines!

If you are of a certain age and grew up in the 1950s and 1960s I’m sure you have fond memories of these mid century Valentines! And if you’re not of that certain age I know you’ll love them anyway!

Dogs were always popular

Food related Valentines are always funny

Disney cards were full of character LOL

Mermaids fall in love too!

Back in the day, we went to the five and dime and bought a packet of these sometimes sweet, sometimes funny, always fun, little cards. Then we took them home, spread them out on the kitchen table, and decided which one should go to which kid in our elementary school class. Then on Valentine’s Day, or the day before Valentine’s Day if it was on the weekend, the teacher would set aside some time and we would exchange our Valentines. It was great fun to then go home with your pile of cards and enjoy each and every one.


Thank goodness, many of these vintage Valentines still survive. And we have a LOT of them for sale here at the Mercantile. Come on in. You’ll really enjoying seeing them and they are so much fun to collect! 

Just some of the Valentines we have for sale

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Carol Fenn 2-2018

Those Funny Valentines!

Not surprisingly, it was a Frenchman who committed the earliest surviving Valentine’s greeting to paper. While imprisoned in the Tower of London following the 1415 battle of Agincourt, the Duke of Orleans wrote to his wife:”Je suis desja d’amour tanné

Ma tres doulce Valentinée”

This translates roughly as, “I am already sick of love, my very gentle Valentine.” This remarkable letter survives in the manuscript collections of the British Library.
Now let’s move forward a few hundred years to circa 1960 and we enter the world of the funny, corny, inexpensive mid twentieth century Valentine. Now if you are, ahem, of a certain age, you remember these. Bought by your mother in a huge pack at the five and dime you gave one to every kid in your class.  



Surprisingly creepy cats



Enjoy this walk down memory lane if you remember these. If you’re too young to remember, I’m sure you’ll enjoy them too! And they’re also tons of fun to collect!  


Carol Fenn 2-2019

The Mysterious “Lover’s Eye”

I’ve been in the antique business for over 35 years but it wasn’t until a couple years ago that I learned about the elusive and mysterious “lover’s eye.” With Valentine’s Day around the corner it seems like this is a good time to look into them. Pun intended LOL

The lovers eye is a miniature painting of your significant others eye usually encased in a small piece of jewelry. A hat pin, a brooch, a pendant, a ring, a tie pin, etc. Sometimes a small lover’s eye bracelet would be braided out of your loved one’s hair. They have also been discovered in tiny boxes that could be carried in one’s pocket.  

Lover’s Eye bracelet braided out of human hair


Memory box

The jury is still out as to their origin. Was it in the 1700’s in France or, as most historians seem to believe, did they originate with a scandalous affair of the soon to be crowned King George IV of England?

Miniature eye collection


That’s right, the then Prince of Wales, later crowned King George IV, and a widowed Catholic commoner named Maria Fitzherbert were in love. But, she was Catholic, older, and had been married before so she would not be acceptable at that time in history. My stars! Despite disapproval from the court, it is said that they wed in secret, and in 1785 commissioned tiny portraits of their eyes as discreet and intimate tokens of affection. 

The Prince of Wales – who wouldn’t fall for this handsome fella?


Once their story leaked to the public, lover’s eyes became popular among the privileged classes. These expensive little gems were commissioned by lovers as well as family members … mother to daughter, father to son, etc.   

Queen Victoria?

The fad mostly died out in the 1830’s. However, it is known that, for example, Queen Victoria commissioned several of them during her reign. Experts in the field believe that fewer than 1,000 of these original “miniature eyes” are still in existence today. There are contemporary artists making them so if you are lucky enough to find one be sure to check for signs of age.  

Carol Fenn 2-2017

   

Collecting Sailor’s Valentines

A sailor’s valentine is a (usually) sentimental gift made using large numbers of small seashells. They were generally made between 1830 and 1890 and were designed to be brought home from a sailor’s long voyage at sea and given to his loved one.  

A beautiful early 19th. century example of a sewing box/pincushion

They can take the form of a hinged box, a picture frame, a pincushion, etc. Some will incorporate a photo, a section of a greeting card, or a small original painting.



For many years it was believed that the sailors themselves made all of these objects. But, in recent times there has been speculation that a large number of them came from the island of Barbados, which was an important seaport. Historians believe that sailors desires may have created a cottage industry for the locals on this island.  

A spectacular pincushion


More research has shown that while many of these romantic objects were indeed made by sailors during long idle hours on the sea, a large percentage were indeed made by the citizens of Barbados.

Anchor shaped pincushion

Some have a religious aspect


 

Today antique sailor’s valentines are highly collectible and they can sell quite well at auction and at fine antique shows. They are valued for their beauty, craftwork, and sentimentality.   

“For My Pet” – wife, girlfriend, cat, dog?

And, not surprisingly, when put together into a grouping they make a wonderful display.   

There are contemporary artists making these today. So if you are collecting only vintage and antique sailor’s valentines be sure you look for signs of age before purchasing.

Contemporary artist-made sailor’s Valentine


Happy collecting!

Carol Fenn 1-2017

WWII Sweetheart Jewelry

Valentine’s Day is approaching fast. What better time to delve into the story of “sweetheart jewelry?” 

United States Navy sweetheart charm bracelet

Sweetheart jewelry first became popular during World War I. Wives, mothers, sisters and sweethearts waited back home while the men were fighting overseas. This sentimental jewelry was one of many things that soldiers either made or purchased, along with pillowcase covers, handkerchiefs, compacts, etc.  

A lovely “V For Victory” collection

While the practice began during World War I it really took off during World War II.

“Don’t forget to wear my pin sweetheart!”

A sweetheart collection

“She’s taken!”

War time rationing of material resulted in plain clothing with little embellishment. Pinning a brooch on a lapel or wearing a necklace with a heart or heart-shaped locket gave the wearer a bit of decoration as well as showing off her patriotism. In the case of a wife or “intended” it showed that she was “taken.” But most importantly, it served as a remembrance of what her sweetheart, brother, father or son was sacrificing while he was away.

 

Wearing her sweetheart pin

A lot of these pieces were made in the shape of patriotic symbols; the flag and the American eagle were very popular. Several of the costume jewelry manufacturers of the time, including Trifari and Coro, made them.

Lucite with planes

A rare piece with a vintage photo

 

The making of this jewelry pretty much ended after World War II. Collecting it is a very popular pastime and the value of some of the vintage pieces can be quite high. If you’re ever lucky enough to hold a piece of sweetheart jewelry in your hand perhaps you will feel the sentiment behind it. It’s more than just jewelry. It’s a sweet little piece of history.  

Carol Fenn 1-2017

Mercantile Mash-Up – Victorian Valentines Meet The Wild Wild West 

Get ready to experience our first Mercantile Monthly Mash-Up! “Victorian Valentines meet The Wild Wild West.” Join us Feb. 1-4, Thursday – Saturday 10AM – 6 PM and Sunday 10AM – 5 PM.  

Rare original Victorian Valentines

On the first weekend of every month we’ll have a new mash-up theme. Always fun! Always surprising! Always filled with finely curated items!  Here’s a few preview pics. Enjoy the photos, then come on in and lasso some treasures!  



See you soon at the Mash-Up!

Carol Fenn 1-2018

That Fantastic Rhinestone Cowboy Bling

“The Rhinestone Cowboy Tours The Southwest” is one of the many Mash-Ups appearing at Midtown Mercantile Merchants. Check-out the Cowgirl looks–sooo vintage!

Vintage cowgirls decked out

Mid 1900s cowgirl outfits

For well over 100 years and counting cowboys and cowgirls have loved “bling.” From the tips of their boots to the top of their hats they have used color, rhinestones and silver to garner attention.

Early cowboy spurs, including a pair of “Lady leg” spurs

The kids had fun with cowboy bling too!

Even their horses would be decked out in hand carved leather and chased silver, as you can see in this parade horse outfit.

In the mid twentieth century the famous Nudie came on the scene. Based in California’s San Fernando Valley, he made his famous “Nudie suits” for singing cowboys, singing cowgirls, rock groups, movie stars and any cowgirl or cowboy who could afford his work. Today his suits are sought after, worth a pile of money, and highly collectible. They’ve been recently re-discovered by today’s generation which is making them even more valuable and sought after.

Nudie here, Nudie there, Nudie everywhere!

Nudie, on the left.

Enjoy this walk down memory lane and come on into Midtown and take in some of our “Cowboy Bling!”

Roy Rogers, wearing Nudie

Carol Fenn 1-2019

The GLORIOUS Variety of Sterling Silver Serving Pieces

Forks, knives, spoons. Flatware. Sterling silver flatware. Pretty straight forward right? Well, hold on there Sunshine! Don’t forget about the serving pieces. Yes, that’s right, the antique and vintage sterling silver serving pieces. There is absolutely nothing straight forward about them!  

Bon Bon spoon and angel food cake fork

One hundred years ago there was a serving piece for just about everything. Tomato slices, asparagus, bacon, lemons, angel food cake, pickles, sardines, ice cream, oysters, baked potatoes, toast, butter, berries, chocolate bon bons, etc. etc. 

The variety is endless. So many ways to serve seafood, for example. And “ice cream forks!” Check out the old catalog pages I’m sharing with you. Who even knew about ice cream forks … and who would think there would be so many choices! Now wouldn’t that be a fun thing to collect! 

Today, we have discovered that we can use grandma’s serving spoon for just about everything. Oh heavens! But that’s ok. Many folks still appreciate the old sterling silver serving pieces. They’re highly collectible and some sell for hundreds of dollars.  

Here at Midtown you just might find some of these classics. Start your search in our French country kitchen and move on from there. Then when you find one or more of these wonderful pieces of history, pull out your linen tablecloth and your fine china and throw a dinner party!  

Carol Fenn 1-2019