Valentines – Symbols of Love

Roses are red, violets are blue, romance is here, and so are you…

Valentines Day, February 14th, was a popular celebration for Americans during the Victorian Era (1850-1900). Courtship and friendship were considered very important and followed strict social rules. On Valentines Day, greeting cards were exchanged between lovers and friends. Other proper tokens of affection for a lady from a gentleman admirer were flowers, gloves, fans, sewing thimbles, and hair combs.

The Leelanau Historical Society has collected such tokens of love and affection in it’s archives, in the form of many paper valentines such as the examples below. Some are full cards with poems and inscriptions, and others are double sided with tender thoughts for a beau or beauty on the back.

Many Victorian Valentines were made from paper lace, and brilliant chromolith scraps. Chromolithography, printing in color, became popular around 1840. A valentine could be assembled at home from paper lace and chromolith scraps or purchased ready-made. They were simple or elaborate depending on the resources and emotional fervor of the sender.

Inside messages of vintage valentines from the Garthe Family Collection.


The brilliant colors of the printed Victorian Valentines, were achieved by the chromolithographic printing process. Printing in colors, after centuries of black ink on white paper, was a thrilling innovation. The process was developed in Bavaria during the late 18th century. It became popular in the United States in the 1840’s and was used for the next 100 years.

The chromolithographic process was very involved. The colors were printed in 8-12 layers and required exact registration. The brilliance and detail of these images was dramatic especially when the image was also embossed (raised) adding dimension. Soon Americans could obtain a wide variety of calling cards, trade cards, calendars, chromos (scenic pictures) and, of course greeting cards printed in glowing color. Small pieces of chromolith printing, called scraps, could be purchased, at stationary stores. Victorian women and children delighted in pasting the tiny flowers, animals, scenes, vignettes, etc. on the blank pages of books, thus the origins of the “scrap book”.

Written on the inside cover of the scrap book, “Started in 1890 by Mrs. Mary Cutler for Clara – My Scrap Book – 1890”. Donated to the Leelanau Historical Society by Charlene Schlueter.

Spread a Little Love!

The Museum celebrates these tokens of love and affection that were exchanged in Leelanau County at our annual Valentines Workshop where duplicate vintage valentines are made available to the public to craft with. Adults and kids alike gather to make homemade valentines for friends and family members.

This year the Leelanau Historical Society is sending the love straight to you. Download this page (8.5 x 11) of vintage valentines, just like the ones in the museum’s collection, to craft your very own valentines at home. Print out on card stock paper for a studier card. Cut out, paste, glitter, and add on to your hearts content. <3 <3 <3