Timeless Love Through Vintage Valentine’s Day Postcards

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Spotlighting A Craft of Yesteryear

Most Valentine’s Day postcards are vivid and graceful lithographs, where some feature hand-colored scenes or illustrated couples, children, cherubs and flowers, along with romantic greetings or poetry. The majority were published between 1898 and 1918, with those from the 1920s and 1930s in fewer quantities. Today, all are considered to be collectible works of art and range from a few dollars to over one hundred dollars, depending on their artistry, publisher, and rarity.  

In 1873, the first American “picture postcard” was produced. Today, a significant number of postcards from the late 19th and early to mid-20th century exist in a good to optimal state with fine penmanship and one-cent and two-cent stamps. Some Valentine’s Day postcards feature handwritten love notes with fountain pens, and as a result, the sender’s spirit and bond with the recipient, lives on.  

Deltiology is the collection and study of postcards, which derives from “deltion,” a Greek term for a writing tablet or letter. A postcard collector is a deltiologist. Several decades ago, postcards could be found at a corner pharmacy, but today, vintage postcards are found on eBay and at estate sales and postcard shows. Nearly every theme is represented, including hometowns, hobbies and holidays.   

Many Valentine’s Day postcards feature illustrations and eloquent, heartfelt greetings, such as a circa 1908 card where a girl wearing an early 20th century hat, is holding a traditional round hat box. “A hat box full of love” is written in unique calligraphy, and the overall image conveys warm expressions.  

This postcard was signed by Ellen Hattie Clapsaddle (1865 – 1934), a significant artist whose style has drawn much admiration, making her a most prolific postcard and greeting card artist of her era. She is responsible for making postcards more marketable and achieved over 3,000 designs. Her artwork was also featured on porcelain, trade cards, paper fans and calendars. Over half of postcards feature children of various cultures, although some of her designs feature other subjects.  

The reverse bears an International Art Publishing Co. trademark featuring an eagle landing on a planet. This firm existed between 1895 and 1915, and was a subsidiary of Wolf & Co. and Art Lithographic Publishing Co. that focused on souvenir and holiday postcard production. The latter company was managed by Samuel Garre, who oversaw the subsidiary, enabling the firm to prosper as a significant artist-signed publisher, where cards were printed in Germany.

Among the most graceful postcards features an elegant lady, wearing a pink Victorian-style dress in front of a bark-inspired backdrop, with vines that are growing hearts. She gathers hearts in her basket, and has high hopes. “Gathering Hearts” is written in an Art Nouveau style. This design was copyrighted in 1911 by prominent artist John Winsch (1865 – 1923) of Stapleton, New York. He was co-manager of the Art Lithographic Publishing Company. Many of his cards were published in sets, and he produced approximately 4,000 designs between 1910 and 1915. He was highly recognized for his holiday themes, as well as his use of European artists who worked with his German printers.

This postcard ties into Samuel Loren Schmucker (1879 – 1921), who was born in Reading, Pennsylvania and was a student at acclaimed Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. His talent placed him on the map as the best American postcard artist of the Golden Age of deltiology between 1898 and 1915. He created the Schmucker Girl, published in 1907 by the Detroit Publishing Company, in addition to the Winsch Girl, published between 1909 and 1915 by John Winsch Publishing Company. According to a self-titled website that preserves his legacy, his unique style reflects a transition from the early Art Nouveau period of artist Aubrey Beardsley and artist Gustav Klimt to a newer realistic style suggested by his teacher, Howard Pyle.

A circa 1908 Arrow Series 173 postcard spotlighted the Cupid theme, often alongside large hearts with graceful and ornate flowers, ribbon, and an arrow. Among the most engaging in the series reads, “Heart to heart, By Cupid’s dart, Never to part.” The reverse reads “postcard” in 19 languages, enabling a large audience to feel included and perhaps loved. 

Postcards offer a window into creativity and innovation. A custom-made miniature New York Stock Exchange was illustrated and read “Confirmed report… New York” on roll paper emerging from the stand, making its way into a basket. This whimsical cartoon-like Whitney postcard was designed around an aspiration for one’s love, with a puppy as a witness.  

This circa 1910 postcard features elegant typography, where “Post Card” is surrounded by a Colonial feather-like design and reads below, “Whitney Made Worcester, Mass.” The Geo. C. Whitney Company’s principal was George Clarkson Whitney (1842 – 1915), whose motto was “Industry, punctuality and Christianity.” His firm became a notable publisher of postcard greetings and holiday cards on specialty papers. The center of the American Valentine industry was based in Worcester, thanks to his dedication. In 1915, “Worcester Magazine” published, “Ninety percent of the valentines that are exchanged on St. Valentine’s Day come from Worcester.” One noteworthy principle that distinguished Whitney is that he did not support “using love’s gifts as a medium for ridicule.” His son Warren and grandson George assumed the operations, but as of 1942, the largest and earliest manufacturer of valentines worldwide, shuttered due to a paper shortage of WWII.

An attractive brunette or blonde woman poses in varying directions within a heart in this 1910 Fortune Valentine Series of postcards, which read “To my Valentine” and “Queen of my Heart.” A crowned brunette is regarded as a royal pick in one’s eyes, and is accompanied by a golden engraved Victorian style fountain pen. The heart-themed playing cards, distinguished by their layout within the series, consistently reveal kings and queens. Gold or silver gilded Art Nouveau jewel-like motifs contribute to its regal nature. This series was produced by the New York City-based E. Nash Company, which was in operation from 1908 to 1910, and was regarded as a well-respected publisher and illustrator of holiday and patriotic postcards. 

Postcard collecting sometimes entails encountering cards that were produced in less quantities, and may have been produced by a lesser known publisher, and with that a deltiologist has a mystery on their hands. One of the most romantic young couple postcards features a perfect moment for their kiss within a shared heart at the height of what can be deemed cloud nine. The setting is accompanied by the charm of a small town circa 1912. Golden pearls and a heart pendant adorn their heart, and the graceful nature is further accentuated by sky blue flowers with golden pearls, pink ribbon, and golden stars. This postcard’s embossed design and vibrant color scheme enabled the recipient and current deltiologist to further grasp its realistic state. A prime example of poetry is evident with its romantic inscription, where there is a knot no untying. The reverse is marked “H.A. Rogers, Columbus, Ohio” and “Made in Germany.” 

It was the end of an era in 2010, when the longtime Buster Brown Shoes, with its animated Buster Brown and dog Tige caricature sign at 71-24 Austin Street in Forest Hills, shuttered. Buster Brown originated in 1902 by Richard F. Outcault (1863 – 1928), a pioneer in the modern comic strip. If one looks closely at this postcard, the answer is in the stars.

Such Outcault signed Buster Brown and Tige series postcards (Valentine Series No. 112) were among many humorous and romantic themed postcards by Raphael Tuck & Sons. This prominent publishing firm was founded in London by Raphael Tuck (1821 – 1900) and operated from 1866 to 1959. Other addresses included Paris, Berlin, Montreal, and 298 Broadway and 122 – 124 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. In 1894, his son, Adolph Tuck, created their first picture postcard. The firm was referenced as “Art publishers to their majesties the king and queen,” since Queen Victoria granted the Royal Warrant of Appointment in 1883. 

At times, romance and humor merge seamlessly, such as when a girl sits on a tall chair, places her hands on a typewriter, and all it spells is “I love you.” Besides typewriters, automobiles, airplanes, telephones, and telegraph wires were among the technologies featured in postcards. This circa 1918 postcard published by The Gibson Art Company in Cincinnati, Ohio was a relatively early design. The firm, which became the third largest greeting card company, held a history that dated to 1895. Artist Rose O’Neill, inventor of the Kewpie Doll in 1909, was employed by the firm after 1912, and today there are over 200 of her artist-signed postcards. Other notable artists were Kathleen Elliot and Bernhardt Wall.

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