Approximately one billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year. Though it may seem a modern fashion, Valentine’s cards have been exchanged by lovers since the late 18th century and these early examples are often extremely collectible. Despite this, they are often forgotten by dealers: hidden in group lots or mounted in photo frames, so keep your eyes peeled for these mementoes of February 14ths past.
The earliest Valentine’s Day cards were, of course, handmade: painted and, sometimes, decorated with calligraphy. Common motifs include animals and flowers, which often represented endearments. Much of the value of these cards lies in their visual appeal, with the more charming cards commanding a premium. Collected by Folk Art collectors as well as collectors of Valentines memorabilia, these handmade Valentines are now very rare.
Once chromolithography (color printing) became financially viable in the mid-19th century, a whole host of cards for holidays, including Christmas and Valentine’s Day, began to be mass-produced. Look out for cards by well-known makers, such as the English manufacturer, Raphael Tuck & Sons.
As with the handmade cards, visual appeal is one of the primary indicators to value of mass-produced cards. Also consider how the card is made: any intricate detail, such as Embossing, die cutting or Gilding generally makes it more desirable. The quality of a card’s printing will also affect its value, with those featuring more colors generally more desirable, particularly if these colors are still fresh and strong today.
And, of course, pay attention to whom the card is to and from. Often this is merely a curiosity, but love letters and cards exchanged by famous lovers, such as Lord Nelson and Lady Emma Hamilton, are of historical interest.