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Valentine WritersAuthor: Pauline Stone Summers
( Article orginally published February 1963 )
Long ago lovers, with tender care, sometimes with great taste and skill, made countless valentines. The earliest were, of course, entirely handmade. When manufactured valentines first came on the scene, the message itself was penned by the sender. "No gentleman," observed Godey's Lady's Book in 1849, "would send a valentine that he did not write."
For the untutored wooer, an obliging stationer, or some other practiced penman, might write the message, consulting the latest valentine writer for an appropriate verse.
The valentine writer, published sporadically by enterprising booksellers, was a small paper-covered chapbook, usually with a gorgeously colored frontispiece. It contained sentimental verses suitable for all classes and conditions. Those adapted for various trades were popular. In addition to a message from the sender, two sets of rhymes were prepared for the recipient-one affirmative, dripping with sentiment, the other negative, often both coarse and cruel. Most of these writers were undated, being noted merely as "for the present year," thus allowing left over writers to be offered year after year as new.The School of Love, pictured above, boasts an "eccentric Frontispiece," a highly colored embellishment by the famous Cruikshank, This "Original and Comic Valentine Writer for Trades, Professions, &c." includes a great variety of them-from Actor to Water Man. On page 16, the Footman's suggested "no" to a Milkmaid is not unkind, simply saying that his "smart cock'd hat and Liv'ry fine" had won him a rich widow's heart. Not so gentle was the rebuff supplied for a lady who spurned a baker:
Bad is your bread, and short of weight,
This book, dating about 1814, was "Printed for Mrs. Perks, St. Mary's Lane and Sold by all Booksellers in Town and Country, Price Sixpence." Cupid's Annual Charter, in the small illustration, bears a sentimental picture, but its verses are excessively rough. First published about 1810 by W. Perks, 21 St. Martin's Lane, this was also priced at sixpence. One of the earliest valentine writers-and a choice one to look forwas offered by John Marshall of London in 1797 in an advertisement at the back of May Day, or Anecdotes of Miss Lydia Lively, which announced it as "The Little Valentine, shewing the whole Art of Valentine Writing, in a Manner entirely adapted for Children, Price Two-Pence, in Gilt Paper."