Hearts and Thoughts: Victorian Valentine Postcards

Cheeky cherubs, the secret language of flowers, shy glances and bawdy wit... You'll find it all in Valentine postcards from the early 20th century. But this delightful vintage ephemera offers a collector more than just vivid images, symbolism and little bit of humor. It tells a story, too-- giving us a quick peek into the lives of the people who posted the cards-- those who took a moment to jot a note, share a thought, even subtly say what could not be said in person. So today, I'll share with YOU just a few cards from my collection, and the little stories they carry with them. I think you'll agree, it's a look at history and humanity, all on a 3 1/2 by 5 scrap of paper.

"To My Dearie." Oh, I love it!-- We just don't phrase things like that anymore. And on the back, we get a quick view into the social life of Goff, PA, during 1909. It reads:

Hello Harvey-
There is a dance on Friday night, November 5th at Edward Thomas. You are invited and would you please and tell Mr. and Mrs. McCurre. And if you see James Richard tell him and Allen Ruffner. Please try and come.


Did Harvey show up? Did he invite the others? Was this a casual invitation, or a subtle way for Anna to let Harvey know she wanted to see him? Did the "To My Dearie" have any relation to the message on the card, or did Anna just use whatever card she had on hand? It makes you wonder.

The front of this card , which bears a couple in close discussion, tells us:

The old, old story so often told, to hearts and souls its tales unfold.

And on its back is the note:

I arrived to Pittsburg yesterday after noon. I think always about you and how you? I am with best regards yours,


I think it's an interesting reflection of how our world has grown that the writer here makes Pittsburgh (which was spelled without the ending "h" in 1910) sound like it's a country away. When in fact, this card was sent from Pittsburgh to Alverton in Westmoreland County which is, at most, an hour drive by today's standards. In 1910, however, that distance would, indeed, have seemed like a real adventure!

Now THIS card actually IS communicating over a distance...

The card itself bears no note, just the name and address of one young serviceman-- Pvt. Wyon N. Taplain, at Bovington Camp in Dorset, England-- to one Miss Doris Wheeler. Perhaps the verse in French on its face side was meant to say it all. In French, it reads:

Au Crepuscule
L’ombre du soir descend sur la ville endormie
Mais l’ombre du passe surgit devulan mes yeux
Et j'ecoute attentive en mon coeur anxieux
Comme un echo lointain, vibrer ta voix amie
Dans l’ombre qui descend du ciel silencieux

Tapping into my dusty high school French, an online dictionary, and some very welcome assistance from Sujatha over at Fluff-n-Stuff, it translates to say:

At Twilight
The shadow of night descends on the sleeping town
But the shadows of the past spring up before my eyes
And I listen, attentive to my anxious heart
Like a distant echo, your friendly voice vibrates
In the shadows descending from the silent sky.

Did the Private make it back from his service? What did he experience during his time overseas? Is the recipient his sweetheart, or a relative? We get only a slice of the story.

The card above appears to have been used as a bit of an in-joke between two close sisters. The front says:
Love’s Token
When lips met lips
In one sweet kiss
The world seems fair
And full of bliss
You'd think this card would have been used as an expression of sentiment between a couple in love, right? But the message on the back, in the penmanship of a gradeschooler, seems to label the action shown on the front:

Billie and Grace Mind
Billie looken.

I wonder if Billie or Grace ever caught wind of this little exchange? The ornery sense of humor shines through decades later.

Now here, this one above is among my favorite cards. On the front it reads, "For my Valentine." And on the back, we see some thoughtful greetings from an aunt and uncle to their beloved niece.

To Mary
With love to a dear little sweetheart
Aunt Ettie, Uncle John

I love the "dear little sweetheart" line, I wonder how old Mary was when she received this piece of mail. I find myself picturing this ringletted Shirley Temple, bubbling over with joy at receipt of an actual piece of post for herself.

As for this card, the front is in Italian and reads:

Linguaggio d'amore
Come il Giglio
simbol di candore
tu sei per me il mio
sacro amore
Which, using a handy-dandy online dictionary and a translator, seems to say:

Language of love
Like the lily,
symbol of candor,
you are to me
sacred my love

And the inscription on the back reads:

My beloved, I received your letter of the 9th I am well, hope you are the same. The answer to it will follow this evening. I haven’t the time just now. Everything is O.K. out here. Best wishes, love and many kisses XXXX from your faithful Josie

It's addressed to Miss Mary Travaglio, and came from Houston, Texas to the Butler, PA area. Are Mary and Josie sisters? School chums? How did a card from Italy come to be used by Josie in Texas to send to Pennsylvania? We may never know.

Well, here's hoping you all enjoyed this little glimpse into the past today. On Valentine's Day, when you receive those cards from your nearest and dearest, you may find yourself wondering-- in 80 years, who will be reading and enjoying your cards anew?...

How long will these Valentine sentiments endure?

Thanks for stopping by today! And if you have an extra moment, click here to connect to last year's Valentine's Jam Tart recipe (because it's yummy). Or click here if you missed last week's Treasure Box Wednesday post featuring "Deco Delicacies, Gracious Gravyboats and Others."

Hope to see you again this coming Wednesday for a whole new Treasure Box post! Until then, take care.


Lidian said...

I've just begun to collect old postcards - I was in a secondhand bookstore last week and just fell in love with them...these are terrific, and I love that you posted the messages written on them too.

I did a post about one of my postcards on my blog "The Virtual Dime Museum" (link on Kitchen Retro)

Rosemary said...

Hi Jenn,
I just love the old postcards. I love reading them, and wondering about the lives back then.
Wouldn't these people be amazed at the way we communicate these days.
Have a great week! I am going to go and check out your recipe.

Sher said...

Josie wrote that to her sister? Darn! I was hoping she was responding to a marriage proposal. In today's world eyebrows would be raised to hear one sibling address another as "Beloved".
Hugs, Sher

ThriftShopRomantic said...

Hi, Lidian- I'll have to go check it out! Interestingly, when collecting postcard, blank, non-used postcards are actually considered more valuable. But I think some of the stories make the cards even more interesting.

Rosemary- it is amazing to think how much communications have changed. And think, too, during this time you would have received mail multiple times a day! I'm lucky on Friday if, when I just have store fliers, the mailman brings them at all. :)

Sher- Oh, I know-- I had to do a double take on that one myself. (Unless Josie is the nickname for "Joseph," of course.) But honestly, when you read Victorian literature, close friends and family addressed each other in much the same way. It seems very gushy to our modern ears.

Stephanie said...

I love looking at this type of stuff. When I was a kid, my parents gave me a whole book filled with unused reproductions. I could still kick myself for using them and giving them away. Stupid teen ex boyfriends...

Cross Stitch Fan said...

Oh such fun to browse these post cards. I did so enjoy!

Thank you for such a neat Blog. I will definitely be back.


ThriftShopRomantic said...

Stephanie- If you get a chance to go to antique malls or flea markets at all, you could probably find yourself some nice original ones for not much money. I understand how as kids we don't always look ahead to the importance of the things we have! It's an honest mistake.

Cross Stitch Fan-- thanks! So glad to have you visit! :)


Sujatha said...

To think of all the memories being given away from musty old attic boxes! Maybe it isn't such a bad thing after all, since the buyers will most definitely cherish it instead of the families of the original owners.
Lovely verses, and if I may add, a slight correction to your French translation, which was quite excellent, despite the rustiness of your High school French!

At Twilight
The shadow of night descends on the sleeping town
But the shadows of the past spring up before my eyes
And I listen, attentive to my anxious heart
Like a distant echo, your friendly voice vibrates
In the shadows descending from the silent sky.

The French word 'devant' got rendered as 'devulan' in your transliteration.

ThriftShopRomantic said...

Sujatha- THANK YOU!! The corrections are much, much appreciated! I'll make updates to the post today, then, so the exact phrasing is correct. It's handy to know someone who is fluent in, oh, a bazillion different languages! :)

I'm hoping a reader of Italian might have also some words of wisdom on the last card. I struggled with the translation on that one, and I'm sure there are errors.

Debbie said...

Hi Jenn...what beautiful old postcards....this was a fun read for Valentine's Day....hope you have a happy one! :)


Andrea Amu said...

Ahhh, these were all so fun to read and look at! Love the old post-cards!

Did you get to work on your wooden banner yet? That's a great project idea!

ThriftShopRomantic said...

Hey, Debbie! Backatcha-- hope you're well and going gangbusters with your new crafts at the shop. I need to pop by this week-- hopefully I'll have a lull in the project for work I've been crushed under.

Andrea-- No, unfortunately not yet, but thanks for asking!-- it's looking like it'll be a next year endeavor. Between longer work hours, I've also gotten sidetracked on a wholly different craft project for Easter. Where does the time go???


maryweil said...

If you love Victorian greeting cards, you might also enjoy reading this interview with a leading Victorian greeting card collector.


Crossroads Cottage said...

Thanks for sharing. I too love old Vintage Cards/Postcards. In fact, I just gave my husband a Vintage Valentine this morning. I prefer the ones with messages as well. Although after reading them, I wish I knew more about the writers and their lives. Very fascinating!