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Historical Valentine’s Day cards at Southampton University

By Michelle Monaghan

Today, millions of people across the UK are celebrating Valentine’s Day. The day of love and romance, which has been celebrated historically in many forms, from pagan fertility festivals to a Christian feast day honouring Saint Valentine, has turned into a popular day for people to express their love in different ways. The gifting of cards and love notes is a common one, and Finder estimates that over 25 million cards are sent for Valentine’s Day each year.

While buying and giving each other cards may seem like a normal thing to do on Valentine’s Day as people do on birthdays and Christmas. It has its own history that dates back to France in 1415. When Charles ,the Duke of Orléans, wrote to his wife from his prison cell in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt in the same year. In the poem, he writes:

Since for me you were born too soon,

And I for you was born too late.

God forgives him who has estranged

Me from you for the whole year.

I am already sick of love,

My very gentle Valentine.

In the 18th Century, Valentine’s cards began to be introduced, and by the time of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, the invention of the steam power printing press by Koenig and Bauer was in full motion. The steam power printing press rolled out 1,100 pages an hour and meant that cards could be mass-produced.

Amazingly, 350 of these cards (dated 1820-1850) feature as part of the Broadlands Archive hosted by the University of Southampton’s Special Collections in the Hartley Library. While the origins of the cards are unknown, the collections team know they were purchased in 1910 by Wilfred William Ashley, the first Baron Mount Temple, who resided at Broadlands in Romsey, Hampshire, during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Dr Karen Robson, Head of Archives at the University of Southampton, says: “These cards are very much from a time when lots and lots Valentines were written and sent … the fact that by the 1840s so many of them were being sent it’s obvious to see that they became a popular item for quite a large strata of society.”

One of the larger cards has a handwritten message on it that reads:

It is weakness thus to dwell

On passion that I dare not tell

Such weakness ever will become

For thee my dearest Valentine

So, if you are still wondering what to do or give to your loved one this Valentine’s Day, then look to the past and be inspired by a piece of Valentine’s history right here in Hampshire.

To view photos of the Valentine’s Day cards kept in the Hartley Library, visit: https://www.southampton.ac.uk/news/2021/02/valentines-broadlands-archive.page

PICTURED BY ALLEKSANA FROM PEXELS: https://www.pexels.com/photo/white-card-on-top-of-an-envelope-6478814/