Saturday, February 14, 2015

Vinegar Valentines ~The Card No One Wanted


A bit of Vinegar for a sousing spouse
in this Vinegar Valetine from 1907
Did you think Valentine’s Day was always a red-hearted, lovey-dovey mush of chocolates, overpriced flowers, and overbooked restaurants?

Think again.

In the 1840’s a new fad began to appear during the second week of February; Vinegar Valentines.
Basically these were just insult cards, decorated with a vile caricature, and an offensive poem. These cards insulted the person’s looks, job, intelligence, race, body shape or any combination.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the mean-spirited slant, the fad grew. By the mid-Victorian era, they were quite popular among senders. For recipients they were less so- as if the sentiment weren't punishment enough, if a letter was unstamped, the hapless soul had to pay a penny for the delivery and the privilege of being insulted.  Millions of these cards were sold and sent, as recently as the 1940’s but very few of these cynical cards exist today- most were probably torn to shreds by the poor victim.

Political topics for vinegar valentines through the years included Secession and Suffrage


The sousing spouse found his
revenge in this Vinegar Valentine
from the 1940s

Although it is certain none of these missives could be considered "politically correct", through the years vinegar valentines with a very specific political slant were also produced, As early as the pre civil war era where Secessionists were the target, through the suffrage movement and beyond politicos took advantage of the hearty holiday to add their own brand of vinegar.

These bitter pills even found their way into modern pop culture. In Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, Calvin  often gives Susie Derkin vinegar valentines hiding his true affections for her under their cruel veil of immature distaste.

In these days of Facebook drama and Twitter trauma we may think that trolling is a foul by-product of the internet age...the long and storied history of vinegar valentines prove yet again that there is nothing new under the sun.


Many thanks to the quite excellent "QI" quiz show for the introduction to this topic! You can also visit Collector's Weekly for more in depth information on vinegar valentines. 
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