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My not-so-funny Valentine: The world of Victorian anti-Valentine’s cards

Could We See Ourselves as Others See Us. Vinegar Valentine's card, 19th century. Shows a vain man in black smoking a pipe. Bears message: '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.'

‘Could We See Ourselves as Others See Us’. Vinegar Valentine’s card, late 19th century. © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

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.

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

Where Ignorance is Bliss, 'Tis Folly to be Wise. Vinegar Valentine's card, 19th century. Shows a shy woman in black. Bears message: '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.'

‘Where Ignorance is Bliss, ‘Tis Folly to be Wise’. Vinegar Valentine’s card, late 19th century. © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

“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.”

The dreamer

How Doth the Little Spelling Bee, Amuse an Idle Hour". Vinegar Valentine's card, c1875. Shows a female figure in black with wings, insect legs, and holding a piece of paper inscribed 'Love'. Bears following lines of verse: '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.'

‘How Doth the Little Spelling Bee, Amuse an Idle Hour’. Vinegar Valentine’s card, c1875. © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

“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.”

The ass

Write You Down An Ass? Tis Done Sir. Vinegar valentine's card, 19th century. Shows a man in black holding a picture of another man. Bears message: '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.'

‘Write You Down An Ass? Tis Done Sir’. Vinegar Valentine’s card, late 19th century. © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

“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

Vinegar Valentine's card, c1875. Shows a miserable woman holding several books: '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.'

Vinegar Valentine’s card, c1875. © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

“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.”

The hen-pecked

Vinegar Valentine's card, c1875. Shows a miserable man holding a baby, while scolded by his wife. Bears message: '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.'

Vinegar Valentine’s card, c1875. © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

“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 drunk

Vinegar Valentine's card, c1875. Shows a drunken man holding on to a lamp post. Bears message: '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.'

Vinegar Valentine’s card, c1875. © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

“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.”

The jilter

Vinegar Valentine's Card, c1875. Shoes a woman in a red dress. Bears message: '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.'

Vinegar Valentine’s card, c1875. © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

“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

How Gratifying to be the Envy of Our Friends. Vinegar Valentine card, c1875. Shows a man in black holding a baby by a fire. Bears message: '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.'

‘How Gratifying to be the Envy of Our Friends’. Vinegar Valentine’s card, c1875. © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

“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.”

The cad

Pride Will Have a Fall. Vinegar Valentine's card, c1875. Shows a man in black wearing top and tails, looking upwards. Bears message: '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.'

‘Pride Will Have a Fall’. Vinegar Valentine’s card, c1875. © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

“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

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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…

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