The John A. McAllister Collection: Printed Ephemera

Comic Valentines

Comic valentines, very popular in the United States beginning in the early 1840s, are quite different from the lacy, heart-shaped cards that one associates with the holiday today. The cartoons and verses poke fun at various occupations (lawyers, doctors, preachers, butchers, etc.), ethnicities (Black, Irish, German, etc.), human frailties (fat, thin, ugly, nosy, two-faced, etc.), romantic aspirations, habits and pastimes, political activities, and participation in the American Civil War. All of the valentines have been digitally reproduced and are available through our digital collections.

Comic valentines, published and sold by John Wrigley and Henry De Marsan, New York, among others, c. 1865. Woodcut and wood engraving on wove paper, with hand coloring; ranging in size from 10 by 7 inches to 5 by 3 inches. These colorful, bitingly satirical, and generally funny (though often crude and cruel) messages circulated on Valentines Day, and carried multiple layers of sentiment and subtext between their images and their poems. Gift of John A. McAllister.