Will You Be My Valentine?

February 12th, 2013by Olivia MahoneyFiled under: Collections, Stories

February in Chicago usually means lousy weather, but we have lots of holidays to cheer us up: Groundhog Day, Lincoln’s Birthday, Washington’s Birthday, and, last but not least, Valentine’s Day.

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Valentines given to Chicagoan Ruth Moline, 1900s–1920s
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First associated with romantic love in the Middle Ages, Valentine’s Day is a special day set aside for sweethearts to exchange greeting cards and small gifts that express their love for one another. Paper valentines became popular in England in the early nineteenth century and quickly spread to America. By the late nineteenth century, commercial greeting card companies were mass-producing Valentine’s Day cards, and today, we send approximately 150 million each year.

Most valentines are probably thrown away, but some, including those I recently found in the Museum’s collection, are saved and treasured. The collection numbers about two dozen valentines given to a young Chicagoan named Ruth Moline. Most of them are from the early 1900s to 1920s, when commercially made valentines began to inundate the American market. Several are the pop-up kind, while others are simpler in form. All of them appear to be from Ruth’s grade-school friends. In Chicago, Valentine’s Day is usually associated with a famous gangland slaying on North Clark Street, but these sweet tokens of friendship offer a welcome change.

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

> Check out all things Valentine’s Day at history.com

> Explore the Met’s collection of historic valentines

> Read about the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929

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