We revisit one of our favourite museum collections to take a look at their vinegar Valentine’s cards – sour greetings for foes, bullies and jilted lovers
Valentine’s cards first gained popularity in the 1700s; originally, they were handmade greetings decorated with lace, flowers and other romantic symbolism. When in the 1800s mass-produced cards began to become a reality, and the postal service became cheaper and accessible to all, the soppy sentiments we know and love – or love to hate – were born.
But towards the mid-19th century there spawned a tradition that was altogether less savoury.
“Of little snobs I’ve seen a few,
But none that I like less than you;
This gentle hint I hope you’ll take,
And eyes at me no more you’ll make.”
Like traditional Valentine’s Day cards, vinegar valentines were sent anonymously, but were designed to reject, insult and humiliate their recipient. The cards were made cheaply, often in a red and black colour scheme, and bore a caricature of an undesirable character flaw or personality trait to allude to the recipient’s supposed drunkenness, caddishness, desperation, ugliness or bossiness.
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They were usually accompanied by a crude and insulting poem – often blunt, sarcastic or simply dismissive – and, to make matters worse, these sour sentiments were often sent at the expense of the recipient.
Thankfully, the popularity of vinegar valentines dwindled after the Victorian era, so your chances of receiving one in the post today are pretty slim.
Let’s take a look at some more of these vulgar greetings:
The blissfully ignorant
“Why maiden why, are you so very shy?
Pray don’t imagine for a moment I,
Am on the point of making love to you,
For you are much mistaken if you do.”
“Love is a pretty word to spell,
And I think you do it well,
For ’tis a word of which you dream,
Both day and night, as it would seem.”
“Oh what a pretty Valentine,
And so like you, friend of mine
For every one says you’re an ass,
And other donkeys quite surpass.”
The unattractive bookworm
“Pray do you ever mend your clothes,
Or comb your hair? Well, I suppose
You’ve got no time, for people, say,
You’re reading novels all the day.”
“A married man’s delights are doubled,
His life’s so smooth he’s never troubled,
His missus never scolds — Oh never,
But wears a smiling aspect ever.”
“The kiss of the bottle is your heart’s delight,
And fuddled you reel home to bed every night,
What care you for damsels, no matter how fair!
Apart from your liquor, you’ve no love to spare.”
“So sweetly you smile, I feel often inclined,
To make you an offer, but then I change my mind,
For to tell you the truth, I have heard people say.
That in jilting your lovers you’ve rather a way.”
The envy of his friends
“Who’d ever think, as you sit there,
That once a smart young man you were?
Well, never mind what people say,
For every dog has had his day.”
“You’re as vulgar a cad as I’d wish to meet,
And yet you’re devoured by pride and conceit,
But I fancy before very long you’ll find out,
That everyone thinks you an ignorant lout.”
The Royal Pavilion and Museums, Brighton and Hove’s digital catalogue has thousands of collections and other assets available to download and share. It can be found at https://dams-brightonmuseums.org.uk
Brighton Museum and Art Gallery
Brighton & Hove, East Sussex
Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, with its rich and diverse collections, creates a vibrant cultural centre in and around the Royal Pavilion estate in the heart of the city of Brighton & Hove. Dynamic and innovative galleries provide greatly improved access to the Museum's nationally and locally important collections. Objects…