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Will you be my Valentine?

Nashville Union and American, Feb. 14, 1872

The most romantic day of the year is just around the corner. I hope you have purchased your cards and candy already. Valentine’s Day probably originated as a pagan Roman holiday that remained popular after the rise of Christianity. Rather than forbid converts from participating in the celebrations, early Christian leaders appropriated the holiday, assigning a saint to the day in an attempt to stamp out the Roman influences. But despite their efforts, the holiday remained about romantic love.

Even in the 19th century, people celebrated Valentine’s day by sending cards, sometimes ordering them months in advance (of course they didn’t have same day shipping like we do). An advertisement for Valentine’s published in the Nashville Daily Patriot December 17, 1855 explained that the seller “imported from Europe a great variety of gold, silver, and illuminated lace and embroidery papers, expressly for Valentines.” To get a better idea of what this sort of Valentine might look like, check out the two late 19th century Valentine in the Met Museum’s online collection below.

According to an article in The Manhattan and de la Salle Monthly, published in 1875, demand for Valentines was growing in the 1870s, including comic poems, expensive paper, and gifts. These cards could range in price from five cents to five dollars, though the price could be even higher. One Valentine manufacturer in Philadelphia “sold over $25,000 worth of valentines [in 1873], one of which was made to order at a cost of $500. The centre piece was an elegant miniature watch and chain, and the outside decorations were principally clusters of jewelry.”

We have no record of Adelicia sending Valentine’s, although it is hard to image that she (or her children) never received any. Still even in the 19th Century not everyone was thrilled about Valentine’s Day. A woman who sent a poem to the Nashville Union and American in May of 1869 seemed disappointed that she had not received something better than a piece of paper:

Have a Happy Valentine’s Day from all of us at Belmont Mansion!

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