Fort Wayne woman’s collection gets to the heart of valentines
Valentine exchanges are one of the longtime school traditions. After buying boxes of 16, 24, or 32 cards, students would sign their names to the back and deliver them to classmates while collecting their own, sometimes in tissue boxes covered in construction paper hearts.
Judy Bozarth, who is retired from Hallmark, has amassed a collection of valentines spanning the decades. Her finds from auctions and eBay, with names like Bertha and Beaulah signed on the back, show the changes in the times. Early ones or reproductions of those from around the 1920s show a young boy and girl listening to a radio with the phrase, “Tune in.” Others stand up with spread-out crepe-paper honeycomb shapes that once were red but are now rusty orange-colored.
Bozarth has collected perhaps a thousand valentines and mounted some by history and type on boards. She takes them to antique clubs to talk about the history of valentines.
“You used to be able to pick them up cheaply,” said Bozarth, who recently gave a presentation on valentines to the Settlers at Swinney Homestead, a group she’s belonged to since the 1980s. “Like any wonderful antique” the prices have skyrocketed.
Couples had long exchanged love tokens, such as handkerchiefs, fans and gloves, Bozarth said.
Gloves “were such a popular love token that the government started taxing them,” she said.
Valentines, given on Feb. 14 in memory of the martyrdom of St. Valentine in the 3rd century, once were imported to America from Europe, which had better lithography, Bozarth said.
It was Esther A. Howland, a young Massachusetts woman, who in the mid-1850s set up an assembly line of workers to create valentines from paper lace and colorful images called scrap.
Bozarth goes through her collection and smiles. Some images reflect occupations such as nursing, “I’ll be your nurse for better or worse.” Vinegar valentines show gruesome images such as “The Wife Beater” with sinister poems. Some contain paper lace. A couple clasping hands represents Queen Victoria and her consort, Albert. Among Bozarth’s favorites are the round-faced, red-cheeked children depicted in valentines from the George C. Whitney Co. They remind her of the Campbell Soup kids. Whitney became a successful valentine maker around the turn of the 19th century. The company lasted a couple of decades past his death until the paper shortage in World War II forced it to close.
One type of valentine not made from paper was the sailor’s valentine. Brought back by 19th-century sailors and whalers, the intricate designs are made from shells and often stored in octagonal shadow boxes. Bozarth bought one online and tried her hand at another.
What will Bozarth’s husband be getting for Valentine’s Day?
“He’ll be getting a Hallmark card. A new one.”