How to make an authentic Civil War valentine
How to make an authentic Civil War valentine Esther Howland popularized and mass-produced Valentine’s Day cards like this one, using lace and colorful paper. (Courtesy American Antiquarian Society)
How to make an authentic Civil War valentine
Lexile: 600L

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The history of Valentine cards in North America owes a lot to Esther Howland. She made the cards popular. She did it when they were needed most. It was during the Civil War.

Valentines were very important during the Civil War. Loved ones were apart. They were miles away from each other. And they feared they would never see each other again.  That's according to Joan Itaska. She is a novelist. She also writes a Civil War history blog.

Howland turned DIY cards into an industry. She is sometimes called “The Mother of the Valentine.” Follow her advice to make your own sweet note.  

1. Prepare to do it yourself. Or get help from your friends.

Printing technology during the Civil War was more simple. It did not have the sophistication it does today. How did people make a really pretty valentine at a price they could afford back then? They made them by hand.

“Beautiful and elaborate European Valentines were available in mid-nineteenth century America. But their cost and rarity limited their market to a wealthy elite,” writes the Mary Champagne. She works for the Library of Congress. Card-makers in New York made lithographed Valentines. But they “could hardly compare to the handcrafted valentines Esther Howland made famous.”

Howland began selling valentines. They looked like traditional handmade cards. But hers were made using an all-woman assembly line in her home, Itska writes. 

2. Gather up colored paper, lace, ribbon, and maybe some old magazines.

Howland’s cards were made collage style. They used layers and layers of pasted-together objects. She often used brightly colored scraps of paper. She put them underneath light-colored lace. This gave it the benefit of negative space.

Don’t be afraid to put on a lot of layers. A lot. Do you think this will make the card too thick? Try the “lift-up” Valentine. It is another innovation Howland is credited with. These cards were meant to be sort of three-dimensional. That's because of the number of layers they had. They were “particularly effective when placed in an ornamental box made specifically to display these special valentines,” Champagne writes.

3. Don’t write anything on the outside.

Howland is known for a number of innovations in the valentine industry. But which one shows that she really knew her market? It was the fact that her cards didn’t come with a motto on the front. They also didn’t have a verse on the front.

She knew your love is unique. It may not fit with a premade card. “It is frequently the case that a valentine is found to suit, but the verse or sentiment is not right,” she stated.

She had a solution. Howland’s valentines had a verse on the inside. After incorporating as The New England Valentine Co., her company started publishing a Valentine Verse Book. This was in In 1879. The book had 131 verses. They were printed in multiple colors. “A verse could be chosen from the book, cut out and pasted over the original verse inside the card,” writes Champagne.

Howland turned her card-making business into an empire. It came to cater to other holidays. She sold her business four decades later. She sold it to her main competitor.

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Why did people make their Valentine's Day cards by hand during the Civil War?
Write your answers in the comments section below

  • Loghan-
    2/12/2018 - 02:37 p.m.

    They didn't have computers or printers so they had to use their hands

  • Anna-246879514
    2/12/2018 - 02:41 p.m.

    People made Civil War homemade cards because they were far away from home and to people they love so they wanted to make something personal and heart warming.

  • Matt-
    2/12/2018 - 02:41 p.m.

    because the soldiers were miles and miles away and they were worried about their family

  • AIDANG-arr
    2/14/2018 - 11:51 a.m.

    I think they made valentines day cards by hand in the Civil War because they didn't have anything to mass produce them, and it would mean more to a loved one in the war because it was made by someone they love not some machine.

  • OWEND-arr
    2/14/2018 - 11:52 a.m.

    They could not buy a really pretty card that was affordable.

  • NAOMIC-arr
    2/14/2018 - 11:53 a.m.

    They had to make it by hands during the Civil War because They couldn't afford it during that time

  • CHLOEG-arr
    2/14/2018 - 11:55 a.m.

    People made Valentine's cards by hand during the civil war because it was affordable by then for the people. I know this because the article it states"How did people make pretty valentine at a price they could afford? they made them by hand." As you can tell, this supports my answer.

  • JAYDENL-arr1
    2/14/2018 - 11:56 a.m.

    People made Valentines day cards by hand because in the source How to make an authentic Civil War Valentine it states ¨But their cost and rarity limited their market to a wealthy elite¨

  • DANICAL-arr
    2/14/2018 - 11:56 a.m.

    They made valentines day cards by hand because to show there love ones and they had to make them by hand because during the civil war they did not have printers like today.

    2/14/2018 - 11:57 a.m.

    People made the cards by because they were too expensive for them to buy so they made the cards by hand

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