Valentine’s Day honors Juno, the Roman goddess of marriage, and the Christian martyr St. Valentine. One of the most common collectibles of the holiday are a telltale sign of it — the printed valentine cards exchanged by children and adults alike.
While the advent of commercialized printing changed the face of the card industry in the early 20th century, the valentines of the 1940s speak volumes about a tumultuous time in our history and highlight our midcentury modern culture.
Valentine cards from the 1940s often featured poems, rhymes, special events, famous places, lovers throughout history (e.g., Samson and Delilah, Antony and Cleopatra, etc.), cartoon characters, military themes and many images from that era.
Some of the very rare, collectible and valuable valentine cards derived from the spectacle that was the World’s Fair, held in New York City in 1939-40. One example featured an illustration of the Trylon and Perisphere by architects Harrison and Fouihoux, and read “Hey, hey! You’re the FAIR-est Valentine in the world.”
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Valentines that fall into more than one collecting category — like World’s Fair collectibles, printed cards and Valentines — attract more interested buyers and command higher prices on the market. World’s Fair valentines, for example, can cost as much as $5 to $15 each, whereas a similar period valentine with no connection to the World’s Fair may only be worth $1 to $3 each to collectors.
World War II-era Valentines often offered a cheerful and happy sentiment, despite the fact that the war was ever-present in the minds of many lovers. Some war-era valentines featured figures of children dressed in military uniforms reporting that “I’d FIGHT them all for you, Valentine.”
Native Americans figured prominently in the Valentines of the late 1940s and 1950s, in part, according to some historians, for their vital role in service during World War II. Native Americans played important roles in security and all parts of the military overseas and at home. Valentine cards were produced in America during the post-war years that featured Native American children in full headdress and traditional costumes, too.
Air and sea travel figured prominently in the 1940s and ’50s, and zeppelins, airplanes, rockets and ocean liners were pictured on Valentines that read, “I’m MOONING over you, Valentine,” “Is there SPACE in your heart for me?” and “I’d SAIL the ocean blue for you, Valentine.”
Even big businesses got into the act at Valentine’s Day.
Some valentine cards featured pictures of kitchen appliances like refrigerators, stoves, cars, etc. A cute early 1940s valentine card featured a girl standing next to her period-style, light blue, single-door refrigerator (often called “the Frigidaire” in those days) with a boy sitting inside and read, “Your FRIGID AIR is not so nice, Don’t treat me like a cake of ice! Be my Valentine.”
Famous cartoon characters were pictured on many valentines, and some of the most popular characters were the beloved Disney duo of Mickey and Minnie Mouse.
While Disney characters appeared on war posters encouraging workers in plants making machines for the war effort, these same cartoon icons also were prominently displayed with messages on valentine cards. Similarly, Daisy Mae and her friends from the “Lil Abner” strip drawn by Al Capp in the funny papers were popular features on Valentine cards of the 1940s.
Hallmark, in cooperation with United Feature Syndicate, produced a line of cards featuring the gang from “Li’l Abner” and other comic strips in 1946.
The E. Rosen Co., of Providence, R.I., produced a valentine card in the 1940s called the lollipop card. A typical, though trendy, 1940s lollipop card featuring two puppies read, “Puppy love is dandy, so I’m sending you this CANDY.” That’s right, circa the 1940s, lollipop cards came with — you guessed it — valentine’s candy.