Posted by: Cornwall Community Museum | February 12, 2015

Artifact of the Week. Valentines.

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When the amorous Henry VIII of England proclaimed Valentines Day in 1537 by Royal Charter, he was just sanctifying a custom that stemmed from 3rd century Rome.

Tradition has it that two Christian Martyrs, a bishop and a priest both named Valentine were executed on the Feast of Lupercalia, held on Feb. 14. to mark the coming of spring.

Capitalizing on the propaganda potential of he dual martyrdoms, the Christian Church turned Feb. 14 into St. Valentine’s Day,  Unfortunately, no one knows if the day was meant to honour the bishop, or the priest, found guilty of illegally marrying men of military age.  Folklore maintains that the priest sealed his fame by sending a not to his jailor’s daughter on his way to his execution signed “your Valentine.”

As with so many of these traditions, no one has been able conclusively establish the facts.

No matter how tenuous the historical link may be, there is no doubt that the idea of honouring a loved one had taken off.  600 nobles of the court of Charles VI marked the day with a “Court of Love,” which included mass, poems, and songs.

In England, Valentine card giving took hold by 1725.  Within a century the handmade card was replaced by printed examples, often without verses, forcing the unpoetic to buy a suitable message from a Valentine writer.

Both the card and the pamphlets of verse arrived in North America shortly after they appeared in Europe.  By 1857 card giving was so popular that “Harper’s Weekly” reported that Americans sent over 3,000,000 cards a year.

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An elaborate late Victorian cut-out card.  The verse inside reads:

A peerless gem there is on earth,
Of richest ray and purest worth;
Tis priceless, and ’tis worn by few –
It is he heart, the heart that’s true.

Not all Valentines were so sentimental.  Some sent “Vinegar” Valentines, that underlined some undesirable characteristic of the intended recipient.  A typical “penny dreadful” might sound like “Big Mouth” and read:

“Is it a tunnel, where the car goes in?
Is it a graveyard with stones withing?
To fill that mouth with decent food,
Would put a richman in  despairing mood.”

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Leather postcards were popular before World War I.

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Diary of A.J. McGillis, Glen Walter.  Original spellings and grammar maintained.

Feb. 6, 1910 – Peter went home and staid.

Feb. 9 – A & D. drawed home 3 logs.

Feb. 12 – the heaviest snowstorm this winter yet.

Feb. 13 – Jannet Dunn funeral went past first two sleighs she was buried down here.

Feb. 14 – A & Min & MA went to Cornwall.  F. Lavigne moved to Tulley’s place.

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Cornwall Community Museum

In The Wood House at the waterfront, Cornwall, Ontario, Canada

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