It was a small metal box, dented and slightly rusted from the passage of time. Tucked in among the antique quilts and family heirlooms it seemed out of place with Grandma’s keepsakes, until we opened it. Carefully stacked in the box were 64 Valentines, one for each year of her life with Grandpa. WWII cards from his years in the service, 1950s cards with perfectly coifed housewives in ruffled aprons, political themed card for the turbulent 1960s and one with a 1970 Mustang from the year Dad bought his first “non-family” car.
Valentines have long been a favorite of collectors of ephemera who appreciate both their sentimental and historic value. The sub-divisions in this area of collecting are vast and varied, so for the sake of simplicity collectors view then in four main categories, divided by age.
Victorian Valentines made from 1850-1880 are the earliest known examples. The majority of these were hand made from silk fabric trimmed with ribbon and die-cut paper or fabric lace. Due to their delicate nature many of these cards have fallen victim to deterioration. Hand-painted cards are a more common find. These will be flat one-sided, or made with a flap that lifted to reveal the sentiment. In addition to being extremely fragile, Early Victorian cards were made in limited number, making them difficult to find and at the high end of the value scale.
By 1880 greeting cards were being mass-produced. As a result there is an abundance of cards from the Late Victorian Valentines 1880-1900. The beautiful color lithography of these cards make them popular with collectors. Subject matter for cards form this period include; birds and flowers, children and cherubs. The three basic forms to watch for are fan shaped cards, postcards and, the most valuable cards from this era, “pop-up” cards made with honeycombed paper.
From the turn of the century through the early 1930s, cards took on a more futuristic look as the fan-shaped and pop-up cards of the previous century were replaced by unique shapes and sizes. “Modern” inventions were often the topic matter with the graphics featuring telephones, airplanes and radios. Politically themed cards addressed issues like the women’s right to vote and the war effort. Hollywood stars and fashions of the day were also popular subject matter. Valentines postcards from this era were an instant collectible for those with an interest in pop culture. Watch for cards with a manufacturers mark from Teich & Company and Detroit Publishing.
Mid-20th Century cards 1940-1960 are currently trending and have seen an increase in value. Cards from the 1940s with WWII and war-related themes are of interest to collectors, as are 1950s cards with mechanical moving parts. Cards from the 1960s with their political themes and war-related topics are so popular that they form a sub-division all on their own. Highly collectible are valentines with Nazi or dictator themes which will often have greeting like “Quit Stalin and be my Valentine” or one I recently saw with a picture of Castro that read “Don’t embargo my Love”. By the middle of the 20th Century manufacturer’s marks appeared on all cards with Hallmark and American Greetings being the most common and enduring.
Shopping for vintage and antique valentines is best done online. Etsy, Ruby Lane and eBay each offer good selections by both age and topic matter. Antique malls and shops, while having a more limited selection, are your best bet for rare cards in mint condition. The best buy in this category of collecting are children’s scrapbooks. Scrapbooking has long been a favorite pastime for young women and often, if you watch for them, their scrapbooks will appear at estate sales. Look carefully before you purchase, for while they may contain dozens of cards, the method of adhesion to the pages may have caused deterioration or make they may be impossible to remove intact. On the other hand, old scrapbooks can often be found in the $10-$20 range, making them a great way to jump-start or enhance your collection.
As with all paper collectibles condition is imperative to value. Age, topic matter and rarity are also considerations and public desirability is a must. Until next time . . . . Linda
Linda Kennett is a professional liquidation consultant specializing in down-sizing for seniors and the liquidation of estates and may be reached at 317-253-7835 or firstname.lastname@example.org