February 12

30 comments

The Vinegar Valentines in the Victorian Era

Hello, again, my dearies! 

Are you lovebirds getting ready for Valentine’s day?

In the late 19th century, Valentine's Day was more than an opportunity to express love to their mate by sending cards or gifts.

It was also the day to express their frustration, bitterness or even hatred to those who did not love them. And there was no better way to let someone know they were unwanted than with the ultimate insult: the Vinegar Valentine.

The Vinegar Valentines were postcards designed with caricatures and satirical images intended to mock or even annoy the recipient. They were sent anonymously, so the receiver had to guess who hated him or her and, as if this weren’t bruising enough, the recipient paid the postage on delivery. Can you imagine that?

They were available in stores from America to Europe and starred next to beautiful Valentine's Day cards with hearts and flowers. Commonly sold at a cost of only a penny each, they were very popular among the poor and working classes. However, the upper class was just as eager, if not more so, to insult their acquaintances via the use of such cards.

Back then, they were called mocking, insulting, or comic valentinesvinegar seems to be a modern description.

If you are interested in learning more then, my dears, keep reading! 😉

First Appearance

The tradition began in America around the 1840s and had been going on for an entire century.

Vinegar Valentines was once a booming business. They accounted for 50% of the cards sold each year on Valentine's Day. These cards featured an illustration and a short line or poem that, rather than offering messages of love and affection, insulted the recipient.

The cards were also used as a means to communicate hatred and frustration towards neighbors, enemies or even friends, and not just unrequited love. The design of the cards was based on cheap materials, so their low cost allowed everyone to express their feelings.

People's Reaction

These nasty cards were sometimes crass, always funny, and definitely mean. Anyone who received one of these surely got the point.

Even by Victorian standards, Vinegar Valentines were considered distasteful, vulgar and morally depraving.

Some did not hesitate to accuse card makers of inciting anti-social behavior and encouraging hatred.

Others complained that the value of Valentine's Day was waning.

Modern Years

There have been a few cases of overreacting to receiving these cards. People have committed suicides or homicides, as a result of receiving one! Not a strange phenomenon as there were cards that suggested or urged the reader to commit suicide. And many of them were written as though these negative thoughts were popular opinion.

In 1885, London’s Pall Mall Gazette reported that a husband shot his wife in the neck after receiving a vinegar valentine from her. Oh my!

This trend has gradually declined; the year 1940 was the last time Valentine's Day hate cards were exchanged. Surviving examples of actual Vinegar Valentines are scarce. For obvious reasons, recipients did not keep them. 

Well, dearie, your husband didn't get you the gift you wanted? Think that it could be worse like the message below! 😉

Well, my dear, this is it!

Thank you for reading my article…I hope you found it interesting and that you have learned a lot!

I would love to know your thoughts on today’s topic so please leave a comment below!

You’re fantastic 🙂

Written by Scarlett Osborne

Tags

Articles, Regency Romance


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  • Oh my! Those are truly terrible. Seems like vinegar valentines were the Victorian version to the lack of restraint in our current social media. Just Wow! Thanks for sharing.

  • I certainly would not have wanted to be a recipient of one of those cards! What an interesting story! Looking forward to more little interesting nuggets of history!

    • I am glad you liked it, Sue! Hopefully, more are on their way! I wouldn’t have wanted to be a recipient of a Vinegar Valentine, as well!

  • Very funny! I have not seen this used in any of the (too) numerous historical romances I have read. It could be used as a tool of hurt from a nasty woman to a heroine, for example!
    I am a regular reader, wish I could be a proof-reader or spell-checker!

  • I liked the one about reading novels all day.

    During the war my mother and I were evaquated to a primitive village in Bavaria(no electricity or running water).Mum was a cook, liked reading and poetry . In the village she did housework and always managed to borrow books. I was keen on reading too. We had an aunt living with us who did not read, but was very good at knitting,crochet,mending, darning. She often caught me reading instead of practicing those house wife skills and predicted I would never make a good housewife and my husband and children
    would be neglected and run around with holes in their socks etc. I actually did learn and use all those skills (some what superceded today) but reading and music are still my greatest pleasure.

  • Brilliant, Scarlett. Very interesting article. I love the illustrations too! How embarrassing to receive one, you’d be mortified, wouldn’t you? Especially if you’d been expecting a pretty, romantic Valentine’s card!! Thank you.

  • Hi Scarlett.
    I thought your vinegar valentines very interesting,i’m glad they are not around today.Thanks for writing it,
    I enjoy your books, Happy Valentines Day,Keep Writing .Joyce Dodd

  • Your article states 1940 was the last year the insulting cards were exchanged. Though I never heard them referred to as “vinegar” cards, I do remember seeing that type of card being sold in the 1950s when I was a child. While they were insulting, they were also very funny!

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