Valentine's Day in the 19th Century: Lost Connections & Lonely Hearts

Valentine's Day Card, 1864.(Image via Victoria & Albert Museum)
Valentine’s Day Card, 1864.
(Image via Victoria & Albert Museum)

February 14th is Valentine’s Day.  To celebrate the holiday 19th century style, I’ve collected a few Valentine’s Day news items from Regency England, Victorian England, and even 1890s Texas.  Some remind me a bit of modern day “lost connections” or “lonely hearts” adverts (hence the title of this post), others are simply humorous historical Valentine’s Day messages or, predictably, not so humorous Victorian Valentine’s Day news.

The first item is from an 1819 edition of Saunder’s News-Letter and was posted by an anonymous gentleman – a self-described “man of the strictest honour” – seeking his missing Valentine.

Saunders's News-Letter, February, 20 1819.
Saunders’s News-Letter, February, 20 1819.
Valentine’s Day Card, 1830s.
(Image via Victoria and Albert Museum)

The next Valentine’s Day advertisement, printed in an 1868 edition of the Cork Examiner, strikes me as being quintessentially Victorian.  Note the mention of the Crystal Palace and lion feeding at Trafalgar Square!  The Cork Examiner seems to think this advert (previously published in an earlier edition) was merely someone being facetious.  What do you think?

Cork Examiner, April 13 1868.
Cork Examiner, April 13 1868.
Valentine Card, mid-19th Century.
(Image via Victoria and Albert Museum)

Not to be outdone for humor, an edition of the Laredo Times in Texas printed several personal messages for Valentine’s Day, 1897.  They range from the generic to the bizarre.  It’s nice to know that our late 19th century forebears could be as creative with goofy nicknames as some of us are today.

The Laredo Times, October 9, 1897.
The Laredo Times, October 9, 1897.
Victorian Valentine's Day Card.(Image via Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington)
Victorian Valentine’s Day Card.
(Image via Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington)

And here’s another humorous Valentine’s Day message from the 1897 Laredo Times:

The Laredo Times, October 9, 1897.
The Laredo Times, October 9, 1897.
Valentine's Day Card, 1860-1870.(Image via Victoria & Albert Museum)
Valentine’s Day Card, 1860-1870.
(Image via Victoria & Albert Museum)

Of course, it would not be a 19th century holiday without a grim Victorian tale.  For Valentine’s Day 1891, this was provided by the Daily Gazette for Middlesborough, which related the tale of a young lady (rather ironically named “Payne”) who drowned herself after her boyfriend had forgotten to give her a gift for Valentine’s Day.  It reads:

“On Saturday a young lady named Payne, chief of one of the departments of Mr. T. Beckett’s draper business at Peterborough, left the shop on some pretext, and a few minutes afterwards a messenger came in with a note from her saying that she had gone to drown herself.  A search party was at once instituted, and her body was found floating in the River Nene, life being extinct.  It is stated that she had some quarrel with her lover, and that not receiving a present on St. Valentine’s morning she so took it to heart that she resolved to commit suicide.”

Daily Gazette for Middlesborough, February 16, 1891.
Daily Gazette for Middlesborough, February 16, 1891.
Valentine's Day Card, 1860.(Image via Victoria and Albert Museum)
Valentine’s Day Card, 1860.
(Image via Victoria and Albert Museum)

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief Valentine’s Day post.  I will be off for a while this month.  I am presently in the processing of editing my latest novel so that I can get it to my literary agent before March.  That, combined with other commitments, means that there is little time for writing substantial research posts.  I hope to be back on a regular posting schedule by next month.  Thanks everyone and Happy Valentine’s Day!

Mimi Matthews is the author of The Pug Who Bit Napoleon: Animal Tales of the 18th and 19th Centuries (to be released by Pen and Sword Books in November 2017).  She researches and writes on all aspects of nineteenth century history—from animals, art, and etiquette to fashion, beauty, feminism, and law. 

Sources

Cork Examiner.  April 13, 1868.

The Laredo Times.  October 9, 1897.

“A Missing Valentine Causes Suicide.”  Daily Gazette for Middlesborough.  February 16, 1891.

Saunders’s News-Letter.  February 20, 1819.


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17 Comments on "Valentine’s Day in the 19th Century: Lost Connections & Lonely Hearts"

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Vickie
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Thanks for giving us such fun Valentine reading! Enjoy your break!

Mimi Matthews
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Thanks! So glad you enjoyed it :)

Sarah Waldock
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fascinating as always!

Mimi Matthews
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Thanks, Sarah :)

Dorothy
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I enjoyed the early Victorian valentines. I am always watching for the design Sam Weller saw. “A highly-coloured representation of a couple of human hearts skewered together with an arrow, cooking before a cheerful fire, while a male and female cannibal in modern attire, the gentleman being clad in a blue coat and white trousers, and the lady in a deep red pelisse with a parasol of the same, were approaching the meal with hungry eyes, up a serpentine gravel path leading thereunto. A decidedly indelicate young gentleman, in a pair of wings and nothing else, was depicted as superintending… Read more »
Mimi Matthews
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Glad you enjoyed it, Dorothy :) My gosh, didn’t Dickens have a way with words? You can just picture everything that he described. I especially like the description of cupid as a “decidedly indelicate young gentleman.”

Dorothy
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You can always count on Dickens! I wonder if there are still earlier valentines lurking here and there in museums. They probably existed but were not kept. It is out of period for your topic, but I always enjoy the passage from Pepys’ Diary, “This morning come up to my wife’s bedside, I being up dressing myself, little Will Mercer to be her Valentine; and brought her name writ upon blue paper in gold letters, done by himself, very pretty; and we were both well pleased with it. But I am also this year my wife’s Valentine, and it will… Read more »
Mimi Matthews
Guest

You’re right. I am sure there must have been earlier Valentines Cards – even if noncommercial ones. Interestingly, a lot of the Victorian newspaper articles for Valentines Day quote excerpts from Pepys’ Diary!

knotrune
Guest

I hesitate to point out what seems obvious, but only to a Brit perhaps – the lions in Trafalgar Square would be the stone ones at the base of Nelson’s column, so this is a facetious rejection in the literary tradition of impossible things :)

Mimi Matthews
Guest

I read the advert as a bit facetious – with it’s reference to the lions – but I didn’t take it as a rejection. I thought it was more of an inside joke among the couple – some sort of romantic code for a clandestine meeting (perhaps at lunch time?). But I like your interpretation, too. Though, I can’t imagine the lady who would take the trouble to put in a rejection advert of this sort. If only we knew the whole story for each of these messages. I’m sure we would be astounded!

Sarah Waldock
Guest

I took it as facetious love-play, possibly arising from using the stone mouth for a tiny letter box so neither was by the essential lion at the same time, if clandestine

Mimi Matthews
Guest

Yes, exactly!

Mimi Matthews
Guest

Hmm. Interesting theory. I ‘m not so sure, myself!

Mimi Matthews
Guest

Half the fun (especially with quirky adverts like the first two) is in the speculation!

Angelyn
Guest

Land Shark? Who would have thought that 1890s would become cutting-edge 1970s…

And I don’t think the 1868 advert sounds particularly facetious–discreet, maybe…

Wonderful post!

Mimi Matthews
Guest

Glad you liked it, Angelyn :) Some of the 19th century romantic nicknames I came across were hilarious. Land Shark was definitely the most bizarre! I wonder how it originated between that couple? Then again, perhaps it’s better not to know…

Dorothy
Guest

I looked that one up online and am sorry I did!

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