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The History of Valentine's Day Cards

By some definitions, the first “valentine” was sent by St. Valentine of Terni to his friend Julia, the daughter of his jailer. In subsequent years, several love letters used the term “my valentine” to refer to the object of the writer’s affection. But it wasn’t until the 1600s and 1700s that the practice of giving Valentine’s Day cards as love letters on February 14th gained popularity in the Western world. Lovers would deliver handmade cards secretly by slipping them under a door. The oldest printed Valentine’s Day card still in existence is located in the York Castle Museum in England; printed in 1797, it features dove and floral patterns along with the following verse: “Since on this ever Happy day, All Nature's full of Love and Play. Yet harmless still if my design, 'Tis but to be your Valentine.”  During the Victorian era in Britain, pre-made Valentine’s Day cards took off as printing became more affordable. In 1840, over 400,000 Valentine’s Day cards were mailed in Britain. In the early 1900s, the practice of trading Valentine’s Day cards in the classroom began; just like today, some were homemade while others were purchased. And of course, it wouldn’t be a true history of Valentine’s Day cards without Hallmark. The company (then called Hall Bros.) sold its first Valentine’s Day cards in 1913, and today the name Hallmark is synonymous with the cards. Valentine’s Day cards continue to be a popular tradition to this day – in fact, it is estimated that over 145 million cards are sold each year!

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