Saturday, February 13, 2010


As we make dinner reservations at some elegant restaurant, run to the candy store to buy that heart shaped box of candy and order a huge bundle of flowers I can't help but wonder about Valentines day in the past.

Some say it was a Roman celebration of a fertility festival, Lupercalia, that started on the eve of Feb. 14th. While others attribute the day to St. Valentine who was an early Christian martyr. Apparently he defied the Emperor's ban on marriages by marrying sweethearts in secret. He was beheaded on 2-14-270. In Medieval times up to the 1500's an annual village lottery was held, names were drawn and pairings were formed that lasted a year. How romantic. As early as 1533, a folded piece of blue paper with the sweethearts name written on it in gold letters has been documented. By c1610 lovers were giving their sweeties love tokens such as jewelry (posey rings and lockets) gloves, garters and silk scarfs. The Puritans tried to stop the practice but did not have much success. Even John Winthrop, Govenor of Mass. Bay Colony, got into the spirit of the day. He wrote to his wife on Feb. 14th, 1629, "My sweet wife. Thou must be Valentine, for none hath challeged me." In the 18th century exchanging of Valentines became popular. In America c1740 handmade Valentines were sealed with red wax and left secretly on a lover's doorstep. Puzzle Valentines became popular. A puzzle Valentine had a puzzle to read and unfold. Scattered among their many folds were verses that had to be read in a certain order. Early 1800's young men wore slips of paper pinned to their sleeves with their sweeties name written on it. That is how the phrase "Wear your heart of you sleeve" came from. In the 19th century tiny paper hands symbolized asking for a lady's hand in marriage. It evolved into giving his sweetheart a pair of silk gloves as a marriage proposal. During the Civil War some valentines were made like paper dolls that were acturally dressed with cloth to resemble the person sending it. Sailors would carve a stay busk out of whale's teeth or wood and decorate it with hearts and flowers and give it to their sweethearts as a love token. They also carved lace bobbins, knitting sheaths and made valentines from shells.
"Accept, dear girl, this busk from me.
Carved by my humble hand.
I took it from a sperm whale's jaw
One thousand miles from land.
In many a gale had been the whale
in which this bone did rest.
His time is past, but his bone at last,
Must now support thy breast."
"The heart has its reasons that reason knows nothing of"
Blaise Pascal, Pensees 1670
"Many are the starrs I see, but in my eyes no starr like thee"
English saying used on posey rings
"Love, and a cough, cannot be hid"
George Herbert, Jacula Prudentum 1651
My favorite valentine personally was a hand written poem composed by my husband written on a homemade valentine card.
No matter how you decide to celebrate Valentines Day I hope you have a lovely one.
The first two pictures are of a wooden stay busk from the 18th century.
The other pictures are of a silver heart locket with intitials on the inside from the 17th century.


  1. oh my goodnes, gorgeous! perfect way to celebrate 18th c. style :-)

  2. Beautiful Photos, Thanks for the History.
    Happy Valentine's Day !! Connie ~~ ♥

  3. Love the carved stay... you could remember your beloved that created it for you every time you struggled to catch your breath. I guess that's where the term 'take your breath away' came from.
    Happy Valentine's Day.
    Susan x

  4. Donna, the items in your photos are precious. Thank you for the wonderful history lesson and sharing your amazing collection. Those wooden stays certainly must have kept their heart in check!

    Happy Valentine's day,

  5. What lovely little heart trinkets! And I love hearing about Valentine's Day of yore...I think love is always worth celebrating! Even if you're a puritan ;)

  6. Wonderful photo's Donna...such beautiful things.

    Thank you for the most interesting history lesson on Valentines day..I so enjoyed it.

    Wishing you a lovely day,

  7. Thank you Donna for the wonderful bits of history and sharing your treasures. I love the locket...wish I knew someone to reproduce one and the chip carving the the busk beautiful. "sigh"