It seems there’s a dark side to every occasion, even Valentine’s Day. Today I spent the morning looking at vintage valentine’s cards and ended up discovering a world that took me by complete surprise. Up until now, I always associated the Valentine’s Day celebration with romance, chocolate, bubble bath, teddy bears and cuddles. Not piss-taking, cannibalism, swastikas, and racism…
The least mean-spirited designs are for ‘mocking’ valentines – or ‘vinegar’ valentines as they’re known in America – which were often cynical, sarcastic, and mean-spirited, decorated with a caricature of someone or an insulting poem with verses that insulted a person’s looks, intelligence, or occupation. They were popular in the 1840s right through the Victorian era when millions of them were sold.
What’s funny about mocking valentines is that the recipient was responsible for the postage cost, so you basically paid to be insulted by an anonymous admirer!
These are tame compared with the rest of this hidden niche of cards – most of them from America – I unearthed I had no idea existed.
Did people actually send each other these cards with pictures of babies in cooking pots? Yes, it would seem! Reading comment threads on several blogs, apparently some people didn’t think these cards weren’t even considered offensive at the time. Oh how things have changed.
These kinds of cards showing racial caricatures were popular until the 1930s, and were prevalent in ad campaigns across the board.
WARNING: now this might cause offence. I debated whether to include the below card in this piece. It actually made me feel quite sick, and sad, but we need to accept this was reality in America not that long ago, so we can move on to a better place. Apparently these were all best-selling Valentine’s cards! My mind boggles.
Cards decorated with the swastika symbol might seem shocking at first if you only associate it with the German Nazi party. But in fact, the swastika was once a very common symbol of good luck and these cards were likely printed before the Germans used it.
On a lighter note, here are some more fun vintage valentine’s cards I discovered