The British library holds a letter written in February 1477, the writer refers to her fiancé as her “right beloved valentine“. She is writing about her dowry which she hopes her father will improve, and equally she hopes that if her fiancé loves her, as she trusts he does, he will marry her regardless. The letter is believed to be the oldest surviving Valentine correspondence full of love and concern, desperate for news of his decision.
Fast forward four hundred years and Valentines not only conveyed sentiments of love and longing but rejection and loathing. The influences of satirical artists such as James Gillray, Thomas Rowlandson and George Cruickshank were introduced to the populace in popular print form , their humour disseminating their social observations.
Cruickshank worked on some satirical valentines , these greetings were extremely popular from the 1840s and sometimes included prank parcels of soot and rotting fish.
By 1871 over seven and a half thousand greetings were delivered through Spilsby Post Office, the numbers grew year on year and advertisements of chocolate, porcelain novelties and fancy articles recommended them as Valentine gifts.
Alford: The birthday of St. Valentine’ was observed on Monday with due form, some thousands of the expressive messages were distributed. Tuesday morning’s delivery, however, proved to be the largest. Tradesmen were exceedingly busy on Saturday night supplying the ardent lovers, and Monday was all day selection for replies. Boston Guardian Saturday 19th Feb 1881
For those who wished to personalise their satire the 1875 publication “Love Lyrics and Valentine Verses for young and old” encouraged the use and adaptation of the prose contained within its 638 pages:
“It is intended that persons of either sex , who wish to address those they love in suitable terms, or to indulge in a little harmless satire without descending to vulgarity, should find suggestive matter in [these] pages.“
This publication had 120 pages of satirical verses, they reflected the society of the time :
A Tinted Venus
I'm fond of paintings, and admire A form divine and human, But one thing I abominate, and that's a painted woman
When gazing on your tinted cheeks, I feel inclined to scoff, If I should kiss them, or your lips, I know they'd all come off.
From Madame Rachel do attempt your notions to dissever, That's not the way, believe me, to be beautiful for ever.
Don't credit the advertisements In paper or in serial, You cannot manufacture charms with ugly raw material.
I have to confess of all the satirical verses available my favourite remains the one I shared last year …
To a Cod-eyed Spinster
The very last that I should take To Village church or minster, For purposes connubial, Would be a cod-eyed spinster.
I'm fond of cod for dinner, 'tis With me a favourite dish, But I shouldn't like to own a wife With eyes just like a fish.
Time's hourglass now is running low, So be no longer jealous, Make way for younger girls and cease to hunt up us smart fellows.
I'd sooner marry a giraffe, Hedgehog, or porcupine, Than from the female sex select A cod-eyed Valentine.
Happy Valentines Day