London: Thomas Richardson, 1830. Item #03736
With Twenty-Four Highly Amusing Hand-Colored 'Valentine Plates'
[Mock Valentine Caricatures]. The New London Fashionable Gentleman's Valentine Writer [and] Richardon's New Fashionable Lady's Valentine Writer; or, Cupid's Festival of Love. Derby: Thomas Richardson, circa 1830.
Octavo (7 1/4 x 4 3/4 inches; 185 x 121 mm.). [xii], [xii] pp. Title-page "Collection of Mock Valentines London, circa, 1830" printed in brown and yellow with a hand drawn head within the lower part of the "C". Extra-illustrated with twenty-four amusing hand-colored engraved plates. Original green paper wrapper for The Gentleman's Valentine Writer, original blue paper wrapper for The Gentleman's Valentine Writer, original green paper wrapper for The Lady's Valentine Writer, original blue paper wrapper for The Lady's Valentine Writer.
Bound ca. 1880 in half citron morocco over marbled boards ruled in blind, spine with five raised bands decoratively stamped with gilt fleur-de-lis and lettered in gilt in compartments, matching marbled end-papers. Spine ends a little worn.
The twenty-four hand-colored plates feature illustrated poems in varying typefaces, including calligraphic script.
A wonderful opportunity to relish the rude, these address the less attractive walks of life – fat ladies, people who won’t shut up, shrews, dandies, peeping toms, hen-peckers, conceited little barbers, knaves, brutes, bad singers, and more. It’s mysterious in its variations (one wonders at the authorship, the differing poetic styles, the differing types), and a delightful celebration of how much Valentine’s Day can be a let down.
A curious and most likely unique collection, seemingly culled from three rather scarce sources: “The New London Fashionable Gentleman’s Valentine Writer” and “Richardson’s New Fashionable Lady’s Valentine Writer; or, Cupid’s Festival of Love,” both published in Derby by Thomas Richardson and Son, and “Collection of Mock Valentines” from an unknown publisher – all published circa 1830-1840. The original wraps for the Richardson publications are bound in, with different cover illustrations for the Ladies and the Gents, and in different colors (a green and a blue Gents, a green and a blue Ladies), and all with different ads printed on the verso - so possibly coming from multiple different copies of the Richardson’s publications (which ran from 1828 to 1843, and sold for a penny). The “Collection of Mock Valentines” is identified only by its illustrated title-page, relaying no more information than the title and “circa 1830.” All three sources are bound shuffled together in a random, though coherent, order.
The Richardson’s publications, which were published without illustrations – on different and slightly smaller paper than the mock collection – offer a selection of Valentines and answers. Valentine poems from a tradesman, a person of rank, a gentleman, or from “any one in great or humble circumstances” (and more) are addressed to a clerk, a lady that is fond of singing, a milliner, “a gentleman not remarkable for erudition” (and more) – and all are met with answers of compliance or rejection. They range from the sweet to the silly, they are sometimes blunt, sometimes rude, sometimes careful, always witty.
Valentine's Day has been associated with romantic messages and gifts since the Middle Ages, but once the pre-paid penny post began in Britain in the 1840s, the craze for sending anonymous cards became enormously popular. However, alongside the hearts and flowers, there were less pleasant sentiments to be found in cards of a much darker variety.
The intention of these ‘mock’ or ‘vinegar’ valentines was to make fun of the recipient or even worse, to hurl abuse. No stone was left unturned: personality flaws, drunkenness, ugliness, philandering, vanity, laziness, hypocrisy.
These valentines were, in fact, not ‘cards’ at all but thin, single sheets of paper with a printed caricature, some including spiteful comments or a mocking verse. Although few of these survive today, in Victorian times they had as big a market share as the affectionate ones.
Some of the reasons that few 'mock' valentines exist in collections is because they were used more by the poorer classes and not meant to be kept or because they were made from flimsy material. However, a more likely explanation is that the recipient of such a card would be unlikely to cherish it – or to want to preserve it in an album.