There should be some comic valentines in any valentines collection. The one shown today is from our family accumulation.
Most valentines are frilly, sentimental, with expressions of love. Comic valentines, on the other hand, has ugly pictures, caricatures, and insulting verses. Mrs. Gail Oakes, an avid valentine collector in Mansfield, called comic valentines “penny dreadfuls.” They were printed on thin sheets of paper and unsigned by the sender. They were rarely saved, these insulting pieces, and therefore are attractive to collectors for their scarcity.
Instead of love verses, one might receive a valentine such as the one reproduced today with this verse: “MUSIC TEACHER: You have less music in you than has a screeching loon; You cannot tell a sharp from flat nor keep the simplest tune. You thump away upon the keys and raise a noisy din but those you pretend to teach are badly taken in.”
The first commercially printed valentine appeared in 1809 and was a comic valentine, designed and printed in England. These were so crude and offensive that they were banned by several countries. They soon had their counterpart in the United States.
Charles Howard is an American cartoonist who is credited with the earliest comic valentines in the United States. The name “penny dreadful” came to be associated with this type of valentine greeting. They were sold for a penny and flimsy cheap paper made to accept its fate, crumpled, and discarded by the receiver.
Despite their coarseness, comic valentines were very popular in the America into the early 1900’s, and many were used into the 1930’s, but lost their appeal during the Depression.
Anyone was fair game to be lampooned, and there was a great variety of people caricatured. “Fat people, thin people, the dandy, the florist, the woman who wore a bustle, and almost anyone who walked wrote Dorothy H. Jenkins. In an article in the 1969 Women’s Day magazine.
She reported that “… typical of them all is an anti-smoking comic, published around 1900, that certainly antedates the current campaign of the American Cancer Society by a good fifty years.” She describes this valentine: “Up in the left hand corner is pictured a package of cigarettes labeled, ‘One dozen coffin nails’ and below is splashed on the paper is a young man dressed as a dude of the time.
Below him is the following verse under the title “Slow Suicide: If health and strength a man would lose; one certain means there is to choose; inhale the cigarette’s deadly smoke; and prematurely he will croak.”
Jenkins concluded, “Comic valentines of this sort were advertised as ‘laughable and quizzical Merry Valentines’ in 1850!”
Another example of a comic valentine in our collection is comic female character dressed in exaggerated style of the early 1900’s, with this verse beneath: “Tis all in vain your simpering looks; You never can incline. With all your bustles, stays and curls; to find a Valentine.”
During the 1920s and 1930s, “dialect” cards were popular. Consider the one with the little Dutch boy saying to his little Dutch girl: “A Valendine Vish. I vouldt follow you like a doggie iff you vouldt chust vhistle, dear.” Another, a little Dutch girl standing in front of a large red heart gets this message from the sender. “You iss de girl undt I iss de boy; Dot couldt togedder get mutch choy.”
Valentines changed over the years from lace and cut-out fancies to popular Valentines post cards and to “pop-ups” and honeycombs.
The latter were so-called because part of the valentine could be released to expand into a honeycomb section, and fastened on the opposite side of the card to produce a three dimensional effect.
Later came the valentines with moving parts, and much later, the flat kind in various shapes that are found in every child’s valentine box.
Collecting valentines is an interesting hobby. Try finding some in your own homes for pleasure and possibly profit.
(This article originally appeared in the Feb. 10, 1990, edition of the Galion Inquirer. Content provided by the Galion Historical Society.)
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