Feb 12, 2021
A KLINKHART VALENTINE
We found this unassuming Valentine In a recently acquired collection of Klinkhart memorabilia. It is unsigned, but it is part of a collection of letters, documents, clippings, etc. related to various members of the Klinkhart family.
(You’ll hear more about these materials in future posts, and there will also be some 19th-century reports of the goings-on at Klinkhart Opera House and in Sharon Springs from a Canajoharie newspaper column; that just might have been written by Louisa Klinkhart. You can help us decide.)
But what about this Valentine? We know that it dates from the mid-19th century and is taken from a type of publication called “Valentine Writers.” This one was published by T. W. Strong in New York. (The printer’s mark is visible just below the lower border.)
The tradition of providing verses for those no feeling up to writing their own seems to have begun in England in 1797 with The Young Man’s Valentine Writer. By the 1820s Valentine Writers were well established in the US. After about 1840, when Valentine’s Day became a major commercial holiday in the US, T. W. Strong was regularly publishing a variety of these writers with titles like Ladies Valentine Writer, Gentleman’s Valentine writer, Cupid’s Valentine Writer, and so on.
Strong’s claimed to be the”Oldest Valentine Manufactory in the United States,” and produced an astonishing variety of valentines, with sales in the 1840s exceeding $75,000 per year.
The firm advertised valentines ranging from comic to sentimental, juvenile or adult, plain or fancy. Decorated valentines were available adorned with lace, gilt, or embossing. Fancy boxes were also an option. Valentine Writers were at the lower end of the scale. These were booklets intended to assist in writing verses for use in handmade or purchased valentines. Many of the verses were addressed to specific persons or trades, and included positive — or negative — responses that the recipient could use.
Many of these verses were sincere or sentimental, but some were comical or even insulting (“vinegar valentines”). And, sometimes it might be hard to tell, as is this verse from a fishmonger to his Valentine:
My fair one’s skin, like cod is white,
Her lips are salmon’s true;
Her eyes like mackerel sparkle bright,
Like soles she’s firm and true.
Judging from the dates on many of the letters it was bundled with, the Klinkhart Valentine most likely from the 1860s. Given the subject of the engraving and the verse, it may have been intended for a butcher to send to his intended: Cupid seems to be holding a cleaver, and the word STEAK is capitalized. (Too bad we don’t have the response it elicited!) Perhaps it was from George Klinkhart to his future wife, Louisa Kineman; after all, there are letters in this small archive from George to Louisa, prior to their 1869 marriage. Who can tell?
After we investigate the content of those letters a little more closely we’ll let you know what we find. In the meantime, you can look further into the history of Valentine’s Day cards and verses with the references below.
Donaldson, Elizabeth. “Annotated Bibliography on Comic Valentines.” The Library Company of Philadelphia, n.d., http://librarycompany.org/collections/cval_bib.pdf accessed 11 Feb, 2021.
Haas, Kathy. “Do You Have Your Valentines Ready?” The Rosenbach, 6 Feb. 2015, https://rosenbach.org/blog/do-you-have-your-valentines-ready/.
Holloway, Sally. “Love, Custom & Consumption: Valentine’s Day in England c. 1660–1830.” Cultural and Social History, vol. 17, no. 3, Routledge, May 2020, pp. 295–314, doi:10.1080/14780038.2019.1646075.
Schmidt, Leigh Eric. “The Fashioning of a Modern Holiday: St. Valentine’s Day, 1840-1870.” Winterthur Portfolio, vol. 28, no. 4, 1993, pp. 209–245. JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/1181508. Accessed 11 Feb. 2021.