How to make an authentic Civil War valentine
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.