[Editor: This article, regarding Valentine’s Day, was published in The Shoalhaven Telegraph (Nowra, NSW), 10 February 1897.]
Saturday next, February 14th, will be St. Valentine’s Day. In Nowra, in Australia in fact, the custom of sending valentines is fast falling into desuetude. Not a valentine is to be seen in this town, and few in the cities. In New Zealand, however, the custom still maintains a hold of the people.
In regard to the origin of the custom it may be observed that in the days of Chaucer and Shakespeare, the charming, if fanciful, theory obtained that birds chose their mates on the 14th February. Later on, shy maidens and laggard lovers took advantage of this uncertain object-lesson from Nature, and were emboldened to go through a form of betrothal on St. Valentine’s Day.
In the course of time, however, this ceremony was preceded by an exchange of fancy cards, on which were written declarations of love in more or less shaky doggerel. Now, as it is not given unto every man to be a poet, there was clearly a brilliant commercial career before the man who would put on the market a quantity of passable sentimental verse, accompanied by appropriate designs — in a word, valentines as we know them. Thus:
In speaking of a person’s faults
Pray don’t forget your own;
Remember, those with homes of glass
Should seldom throw a stone.
The Ballarat gold fever was at its height when the Australian houses sent urgent messages to the London makers for a special “line” of valentine suitable for the gold-laden, improvident miners. As might be expected, the designers set to work with amazing celerity, and produced an extraordinary valentine more than 2ft. long and inclosed in a shallow box. It was made up of artificial flowers and leaves, paintings on satin, and imitation gems. The gold-seekers paid from £10 to £25 each for these valentines.
From this time we note the genesis of the comic valentine, and, curiously enough the policeman figures in the very first.
There must have been a tremendous demand in England for valentines. Baffled by the post-office, the ingenious designers turned their attention to the Bank of England, and issued thousands of notes on that world-renowned and long-established institution, the “Bank of Love.” The Old Lady of Threadneedle-street, however, would have none of it, so she compelled the manufacturers to withdraw the notes from circulation. They were, therefore “called in” in the orthodox manner.
But the craze for commercial, official, and financial valentines was far from being dead. Swayed by the public, the makers continued to produce I O U’s, and other summonses, promissory notes, official reports, writs, marriage certificates and licenses, School Board notices, wills, and acceptances.
Practically, there is but one firm left in the valentine trade in England, viz., Messrs. Goode Brothers, of Clerkenwell. The astonishingly rapid decline of the valentine within the past ten years brought ruin to many a wholesale manufacturer, to whom the trade was worth perhaps £20,000 a year, between the years 1870 and 1875 — the golden age of the valentine. At this period a single maker would keep six designers and eighty girls employed on valentines all the year round. Rice paper from China was bought by the shipload; plush, in wholesale quantities of 9000 yards at 2s per yard; and silk fringe, from Coventry, in bales of a hundred gross of yards. Twenty years ago, too, the big valentine dealer’s turnover was a thousand pounds a week during the three months of the season; and in his workrooms a quarter of a ton of the finest white gum disappeared in the dainty trifles. Four well-paid male artists designed the “comics” — mainly trade skits and domestic incidents — and those were reproduced on 1500 reams of paper. The machines were kept going night and day, turning out a million caricatures a week, of which some 5000 gross were dispatched to Australia by sailing vessels in May and June. From a hundred to a hundred and thirty different comic designs were produced every year, and one house would have five smart “commercials” showing the pattern-books to retailers in all parts of the kingdom.
It is a noteworthy fact that Ireland and Wales continue to take sentimental valentines in some quantities, the miners of Cardiff and the Rhondda Valley district paying as much as five shillings each for suitable designs; it goes, without saying, of course, that appropriate valentines are designed for these places. Yet, notwithstanding support of this sort, there can be no doubt that the custom observed on the 14th February will soon be numbered among the interesting memories of the past.
The Shoalhaven Telegraph (Nowra, NSW), 10 February 1897, p. 4
celerity = speed, swiftness; acting or moving is a speedy or swift manner; at a rapid rate, brisk
Chaucer = Geoffrey Chaucer (circa 1343-1400), English author and poet
See: 1) R.M. Lumiansky, “Geoffrey Chaucer: English writer”, Encyclopaedia Britannica
2) “Geoffrey Chaucer”, Wikipedia
commercial = a commercial traveller: a salesman, or sales representative, who travels around, so as to sell products or services to customers
desuetude = the condition or state of no longer being practiced, of not being used, of being obsolete; inactivity of a practice, a practice which is no longer carried out or observed; in a condition or state of disuse (e.g. in modern times in some juristictions there were still laws against blasphemy, fornication, and vagrancy, which, although still on the books, had fallen into desuetude, and people were not being charged for those crimes)
doggerel = poetry which is considered to be of crude, irregular, or rough construction; poorly-written poetry, bad poetry; trivial poetry; (archaic) comedic, burlesque, or humorous poetry (especially of irregular construction)
ft. = an abbreviation of “foot” or “feet”; a foot is a unit of length in the British imperial system of measurement (a foot is equal to 30.48 centimetres) (the plural of “foot” is “feet”)
gross = 12 dozen items, 144 items (e.g. a gross of eggs is 144 eggs)
house = a house of commerce, a commercial company, a commercial firm, a business (e.g. a publishing house)
improvident = not provident, imprudent, lacking foresight, not providing for future needs; not thrifty, not prudent, sensible, or wise regarding money; heedless, incautious, unwary; prone to being rash or reckless
inclose = an archaic spelling of “enclose”
I O U = (also rendered as: I.O.U.) an abbreviation of “I owe you”, especially as recorded on a written promise to pay back a debt
Messrs. = an abbreviation of “messieurs” (French), being the plural of “monsieur”; used in English as the plural of “Mister” (which is abbreviated as “Mr.”); the title is used in English prior to the names of two or more men (often used regarding a company, e.g. “the firm of Messrs. Bagot, Shakes, & Lewis”, “the firm of Messrs. Hogue, Davidson, & Co.”)
Old Lady of Threadneedle-street = a nickname for the Bank of England (which is located in Threadneedle Street in London)
See: “Who is the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street?”, Bank of England
plush = a type of thick soft fabric (like velvet), usually used for carpets, furniture coverings, and toys; a fabric with a fluffy soft exterior; very comfortable, very extravagant, very fancy (and usually expensive, or appearing expensive); lavish, luxurious, lush, opulent (e.g. a plush hotel); costly, rich, extravagantly or ostentatiously expensive (or appearing expensive); made of plush, covered with plush
ream = a large quantity of something (usually regarding printed or written material; often an exaggeration, e.g. “she wrote reams of homework last night”); a quantity of paper, historically 480 sheets (also known as a “short ream”) or 516 sheets (also known as a “perfect ream” or a “printer’s ream”), 500 sheets in modern times (also known as a “long ream”)
s = a reference to a shilling, or shillings; the “s” was an abbreviation of “solidi”, e.g. as used in “L.S.D.” or “£sd” (pounds, shillings, and pence), which refers to coins used by the Romans, as per the Latin words “librae” (or “libra”), “solidi” (singular “solidus”), and “denarii” (singular “denarius”)
Shakespeare = William Shakespeare (1564-1616), an English playwright and poet
See: “William Shakespeare”, Wikipedia
valentine = a Valentine’s Day card; a greeting card, gift, message, or token (anonymous or signed) which expresses affection, attraction, or love, which is sent to a lover, sweetheart, or the object of one’s affection on the occasion of Saint Valentine’s Day (14th February); someone who is the recipient or sender of a Valentine’s Day card, gift, message, or token; one’s lover or sweetheart
viz. = (Latin) an abbreviation of “videlicet” (a contraction of the Latin phrase “videre licet”), meaning “it is permitted to see” (the “z” derives from the z-shaped Latin shorthand symbol for “et”, as used in the Tironian shorthand style); in actual practice, “viz.” is used as a synonym for “in other words”, “namely”, “that is to say”, “to wit”, or “which is” (used when giving further details about something, or giving a list of specific examples or items)
[Editor: The original text has been separated into paragraphs.]
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