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Valentine cards reveal Britain’s relationship history

Laura Seddon collection at MMU

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A collection of Victorian Valentine cards from MMU’s Special Collections reveal that very little has changed between the sexes over the past 100 years.

The Laura Seddon collection of 450 cards dating from the early 19th to the early 20th centuries show that not only did the Victorians have a sense of humour, they shared the same relationship ups-and-downs as British couples do a century later.

Comical to crude

A selection of cards from the 1850s show images of domestic bliss with the ‘Master’ of the house helping in the kitchen and rocking a baby, whilst others include a poem about a lovers’ bad breath and a card for gardening lovers using comical fruit and vegetable references.

Another even features a ‘ladder of matrimony’, highlighting flirtation, declaration, preparation and celebration on the way up and irritation, altercation, desperation and separation on the way down.

Poking fun at Victorian values

Jayne Burgess, Special Collections Manager, says: “Contrary to popular belief, the Victorians weren’t as stuffy or prudish as we think. In fact they had a wicked sense of humour and many of the cards poke fun at what we now think of as stereotypical Victorian roles and values.

“There are some unexpectedly comic cards and some that are very offensive to the unlucky recipient, warning people about being left of the shelf or not being attractive enough to marry. They’ll make some people feel glad they are single!”

An exhibition of Victorian Valentine cards is currently on display on the ground floor of MMU’s Sir Kenneth Green Library on the All Saints Campus until 26 February 2010.

The library is open Monday to Thursday 8.45am-11.30pm, Friday 8.45am-6pm, Saturday 10am-4pm and Sunday 12-11.30pm.

Valentine cards facts:
• Paper Valentine cards were originally elaborate and handmade using lace paper, scraps, flowers and ribbon
• Commercial manufacture of Valentine cards made with fine embossed and lace paper began in the 1800s
• In 1835 60,000 Valentine cards were sent by post, despite postage being expensive
• With cheaper production costs in the mid-1800s came comic cards, some rude and vulgar, alongside the elegant lacy confections
• Early humour included mock documentary cards in the form of marriage certificates, telegrams, summons and banknotes

Published Friday, 12th February 2010 Bookmark and Share

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