In the days of the Roman Empire, mid-February was designated as the time for meeting prospective mates. The Lupercian lottery allowed young Roman men the “favours” of young women for a year, from names selected out of a lottery.
Eventually this practice was outlawed, but the custom of young men offering the women they wanted to court handwritten cards or greetings expressing their affection did take hold. February 14th was chosen as the official date to bestow these greetings and eventually the date was named after St. Valentine.
With the spread of Christianity, the custom of Valentine’s Day cards grew. The first record of a Valentine’s Day card being sent was in 1415. This was a card sent by Charles, Duke of Orleans, while he was in prison in the Tower of London, to his wife. The card can now be seen in the British Museum.
St. Francis de Sales, who was bishop of Geneva in the sixteenth century, tried to eradicate this custom and reinstate a lottery for people to select the name of a saint to emulate. He wanted wayward Christians to model the behavior of a saint. This attempt failed in the end, and Valentine’s Day cards became more prolific and a lot more elaborate.
According to Roman mythology, Cupid is the son of Venus, whom we all know as the goddess of love and all things of beauty. This is why Cupid became the image portrayed for Valentine’s Day. We’ve all seen this naked cherub holding a bow and arrow on Valentine’s Day cards, boxes of chocolates and other things. The arrows are dipped on some form of love potion so if struck by an arrow, you will supposedly fall in love with the sender.
As the seventeenth century rolled around, Valentine’s Day cards were becoming very large, decorative and elaborate. They were mostly made by hand, but by now you could buy them in stores, however these were much smaller and quite expensive. In 1797 a British company published “The Young Man’s Valentine Writer” and this book was full of sentimental verses that a young man could use on a valentine card if he couldn’t think of anything to write on his own that would convey his love and affection.
Printing companies began offering a limited variety of cards containing poems and verses along with sketches. These were known as “mechanical valentines.” When postal rates went down in the eighteenth century, people found it easier to mail their valentines through the post office, rather than giving them in person. This made the practice of sending cards anonymously quite popular. And this may be why cards started being printed with racy verses in them during a time that was known to be prudish; after all it was the Victorian era.
Since the 19th century, handwritten notes have given way to mass-produced greeting cards. In the UK, just under half of the population spend money on their Valentines and around £1.3 billion is spent yearly on cards, flowers, chocolates and other gifts, with an estimated 25 million cards being sent.
The Telegram Office recently added a Cupidgram to the gallery, which you can use to send your loved one a romantic message this Valentine’s Day.