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: 850L

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

Valentines were especially important during the Civil War. Loved ones were separated. They were many miles apart and feared they would never see each other again. That's according to Joan Itaska. She is a novelist who writes a long-running Civil War history blog.

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

1. Prepare to do it yourself (or enlist some friends).

During the Civil War, printing technology was more simple. It did not have the sophistication it does today. Making a really beautiful valentine at a price most people could afford meant doing it by hand back then.

“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 Library of Congress’s Mary Champagne. 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 that 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 using layers and layers of pasted-together objects. She often used brightly colored scraps of paper 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. If you’re thinking this could make the card too thick, try the “lift-up” Valentine. It’s another innovation Howland is credited with. These cards were meant to be sort of three-dimensional, 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. There was one that shows that she really knew her market. It was the fact that her cards didn’t come with a motto or verse on the outside.

After all, as she knew, your love is unique. It won’t always 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.

As a solution, Howland’s valentines had a verse on the inside. After incorporating as The New England Valentine Co. in In 1879, her company started publishing a Valentine Verse Book. It had 131 verses inside it 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 that came to cater to other holidays. She sold her business four decades later 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

  • AthenaY-dec
    2/14/2019 - 08:24 a.m.

    People would make cards and fun things for their hubby.And it was all hand made.Thats what they do for their hubbys.

  • MadisonT-dec
    2/14/2019 - 01:15 p.m.

    I think they made Valentine's Day so that people were not sad.I also think they sent one so they could talk to people during the war. That is why I think they sent cards during the war.

  • OliviaV-dec
    2/14/2019 - 01:17 p.m.

    I think that it was really nice of them to make Valentines Day cards. Imagine being in World war 2 and being like depressed and then making Valentines Day card. I think it was really nice.

  • ethanm-orv
    2/17/2019 - 02:46 p.m.

    I think it is very unique that smeone would give someone else a homemade card for Valentines day. I dont really celabrate valentines day though so this isnt too helpful to me.

  • Jaqueline V-mag
    2/19/2019 - 09:37 p.m.

    people made their valentines by hand because the printers sold cards at a price that most people could not pay and people needed them because their loved ones were many miles away and they feared never to see each other again. that's why people preferred to make them by hand

  • Azucena B-mag
    2/20/2019 - 12:32 a.m.

    Because at that time, Loved ones were separated.They were many miles apart and feared they would never see each other again. Also because, During the Civil War, printing technology was more simple,also because it was not very expensive to pay for that work by hand.

  • Nicolas S-mag
    2/20/2019 - 08:43 p.m.

    Because people wanted to give away valentines cards but they were very expensive and also because they wanted to give that special person the popular valentines cards with little money

  • Guadalupe C-mag
    2/20/2019 - 09:57 p.m.

    they are carrying out a digitization project with images and information of the white house and its members, as well as its collaborators, cameramen and even astronauts with their families. I think that's what people want to know, see what happens inside it, that's why it's a great project because they will reveal the decoration and the art that is in it.

  • Guadalupe C-mag
    2/20/2019 - 10:05 p.m.

    At that time when the civil war began, families were not together and for fear of not seeing each other anymore, they wanted to show their love with valentines cards, but they had to do them by hand since they did not have technology. The cards had verses in their interior where they showed the love and affection that they felt. All this is thanks to Esther Howland who invented these cards.

  • Nicolas A-mag
    2/21/2019 - 12:48 a.m.

    because during the civil war there was no technoly like the one we have now and it was difficultto communicate with their loved ones who were far away and wannted to show their affection that`s why they started using the cards invented by the mother of love or of valentines "esther howland"

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