19th Century Valentines Are Surprising and Romantic Works of Art

cobweb valentine victorian valentines day cards

A peek inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Department of Drawing and Prints reveals a sweet surprise for Valentine's Day…nearly 200 years ago. Among the vast collection are historic valentines from the United States and Europe that speak to a time when sending cards reached its apex.

In the 19th century, with commercially printed cards now available, sending and receiving gifts and notes for Valentine's Day became a hallmark of Victorian life. And as such, increasingly intricate cards were developed to help lovers send a special message.

One of the most interesting types of cards produced in the mid-19th-century is called a cobweb valentine. Both handmade and purchased, intricate patterns were carefully cut into a thin layer of paper. A moveable valentine, a small thread tied to the end of the circular cut pattern would allow the recipient to pull the paper layer upward, revealing a secret.

cobweb valentine victorian valentines day cards

Perhaps it was this “for your eyes only” concept that made the cards so popular. It's estimated that 60,000 were sent in the 1830s and 1840s. One of the most complex cobweb cards in The Met's collection actually has its web hidden inside a neatly folded paper compartment.

All the cards, sprinkled with symbol flowers, romantic landscapes, and portraits of young women, speak to a time and tradition uniquely Victorian. Thanks to avid collectors, we're able to use these treasures to remember the cultural traditions of times past.

cobweb valentine victorian valentines day cardscobweb valentine victorian valentines day cards


cobweb valentine victorian valentines day cardscobweb valentine victorian valentines day cards

h/t: [Met Museum]

All images via The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Contributing Writer and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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