Subseries 2 - Victorian Valentines

Title and statement of responsibility area

Title proper

Victorian Valentines

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Reference code

CA RBD MSG 1190-1-2

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Statement of scale (cartographic)

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Issuing jurisdiction and denomination (philatelic)

Dates of creation area


  • 1820-1940 (Creation)

Physical description area

Physical description

46 cm of textual records and graphic material
(Note: includes 427 cards and 5 pamphlets)

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Archival description area

Custodial history

The Valentine Card subseries was accumulated by staff of the McGill Libraries and Archives over several decades and includes items from various donors and sources. One letter found with the fonds and dated from 1946 explains that at least a portion of the collection was given by “Mrs. Diamond” and included cards that she claimed belonged to the Walter Smiths who settled in Montreal in the 1870s. It would appear that the teenage Walter Smith found employment with J.C. Wilson and Co., a manufacturer of paper products, notably paper bags, and later a printer of patriotic postcards. It is unknown for how long Walter Smith was employed with J.C. Wilson and Co., or when and why he went on to collect greeting cards.

Scope and content

The Valentines subseries consists of a variety of greeting card formats and styles from primarily the Victorian era but as late as the interwar period. These include a mix of cards that have been sent and kept by the receiver in addition to several cards that likely belonged to a stationer or printer. While some cards include handwritten messages, most cards are unsigned and seem to be unsold copies or samples belonging to a catalog. Sub-subseries include: comic valentines, foldout or pop-up valentines, ornate handmade valentines, printed manufactured valentines, puzzle or rebus valentines, and sentimental valentines. In addition, the subseries contains several examples of additional ephemera related to Valentine’s Day or the greeting card business, such as valentine writers or printer’s catalogs. There are is also a full scrapbook of card samples and additional scrapbook pages with affixed cards. Additionally, there are a few card making materials or scraps that highlight the various components and processes of card making. The subseries also includes some greetings cards not associated with Valentine's day, but originally found with Valentine's cards.

These materials are primarily useful in capturing the essence of Victorian sentimentality and communication culture. Spanning several decades, they represent the evolving printing culture and technology of the nineteenth century. The subseries equally illustrates the industrial age and the emerging consumerist and capitalist societies as several greeting card companies surfaced around the world to profit from the sudden craze. More subtly, the cards allow for an appreciated of craftsmanship and reflection on women’s role in manufacturing as their smaller hands were often required to do the finishing work on handmade cards.

Notes area

Physical condition

Some cards are damaged or deteriorated due to glue and paper degradation. Most are in excellent condition.

Immediate source of acquisition


Language of material

  • English

Script of material

Language and script note

Contents are primarily in English, with one greeting card in French.

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Sources consulted

Annebella Pollen (2014) ‘The Valentine has fallen upon evil days’: Mocking Victorian valentines and the ambivalent laughter of the carnivalesque, Early Popular Visual Culture, 12:2, 127-173, DOI: 10.1080/17460654.2014.924212

Leigh Eric Schmidt (1993). The Fashioning of a Modern Holiday: St. Valentine's Day, 1840-1870. Winterthur Portfolio, Vol. 28, No. 4 (Winter, 1993), pp. 209-245.

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