Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Local Paper Speaks Against Vinegar Valentines

The following article, “St. Valentine’s Day,” appeared in The Bossier Banner, Thursday, Feb. 9, 1893.

“Next Tuesday – February 14 – will be St. Valentine’s Day, according to tradition the first day of the lover’s new year, and observed in olden times with peculiar and appropriate customs, which antedate historical record. As the day comes about the time when the lengthening days becomes apparent and the first effects are seen of the longer hours of sunshine, its customs, undoubtedly originating among the northern nations of Europe, are probably but the remains of a festival in honor of the return of spring, and embody the same sentiment afterwards expressed in the oft quoted lines from Tennyson’s ‘Locksley Hall.’

“The old custom of youths and maidens choosing on this day a ‘valentine’ or mate for the next twelve months has fallen into desuetude, but the custom still largely holds of making this day the occasion of sending some prerty [sic], though inexpensive, token of affection, as a box of flowers or a daintily painted card of celluloid or other material with a line or two of poetry.

An 1870s Vinegar Valentine.
“There is another kind of so called comic valentine, consisting of a sheet of common paper with a highly colored caricature picture and a verse of doggerel, the sending of which, though unfortunately common, cannot be too strongly condemned. The caricatures and verses have no point unless they touch upon some personal peculiarity of the recipient, allusions to which it is at all times in bad taste. It is a great pity that the pretty custom of sending flowers and cards should ever have degenerated into the comic valentine, which is often but a mean effort to gratify a petty spite, under cover of the license allowed by the season.”

The type of valentine that the writer refers to was decorated with a caricature, and often featured an insulting poem, these “comic valentines” are also called “vinegar valentines,” because they were designed to be insulting and they were ostensibly given on Valentine’s Day. First appearing during the Victorian era, these cards of insult were popular in the United States from around the 1840s through the 1940s.

On May 20, 1897, the following article appeared in The Bossier Banner, titled “Valentine Killed Love: A Farmer Disinherits His Daughter Because of a Comic One.”

“James Martin, a well-to-do farmer, recently died, leaving a will by which he disinherited his only daughter, the result of a disagreement about a valentine 50 years ago, says a Ballietville (Pa.) special. It was a few days before St. Valentine’s day,50 years ago, when the daughter asked her father for a new dress. He refused to buy it for her. The girl took her father’s refusal much to heart. On St. Valentine’s day Mr. Martin received a valentine addressed to him in his daughter’s handwriting.

“It was a rough caricature, representing a miser counting and gloating over his money. He at once took his daughter to task for what he considered an insult. She denied that she sent the cartoon. There lived in the neighborhood another farmer who had treated a niece living with him brutally. Martin’s daughter said that she and this girl had purchased each a valentine and that she (Miss Martin) had bought one entitled ‘The Honest Farmer,’ while the other girl had purchased the caricature to send to her harsh uncle. In addressing the enevelopes [sic] the valentines, she said, became mixed.

“But in spite of explanations Mr. Martin would not believe his daughter, and from that day he never spoke to her. She soon married and lived on a farm adjoining, and, although the old man was on the most familiar terms with the husband and children, he never noticed her. He died the other day, leaving an estate valued at $45,0000.

“By his will he left his widow $30,000 and to his son-in-law the remainder, provided he survived his wife, the farmer’s own daughter. If the son-in-law died first, then the money was to be divided among his three children. To his daughter Mr. Martin bequeathed ‘a package to be found in his trunk, tied with a green ribbon and sealed with green wax.’ When this was opened it was found to be the unfortunate valentine that had caused the estrangement of the farmer from his daughter half a century ago. — N.Y. Press”

Could the following notice be the original story, or the actual event that the story is based on? It appeared in a Pennsylvania newspaper, the Harrisburg, Telegraph, on Mar. 26, 1889, and it merely states, “—James Martin, who died at Ballietville a few days ago, disinherited his daughter on account of a scurrilous valentine which he believed she sent him fifty years ago. The daughter denies that she sent the objectionable caricature.”

The validity of this story remains unclear; however, this story appeared in newspapers across the states for at least a decade, maybe longer. Perhaps it was believed that those who read this tragic story would think twice before sending a vinegar valentine.

For all your research needs, visit the Bossier Parish Libraries History Center, at 2206 Beckett Street, Bossier City.

By: Amy Robertson

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