On February 14, Americans celebrate love and friendship by exchanging cards, flowers, and candy. Although the origins of Valentine’s Day are murky, ancient Romans celebrated the feast of Lupercalia, a spring festival, on the fifteenth of February. Like so many holidays, a Christian gloss was added to the pagan fete when the holiday moved to the fourteenth of February—the saint day associated with several early Christian martyrs named Valentine.
I folded a little missive
And called it a Valentine
And sent it a-way with its hidden freight
From this fluttering heart of mine
“My Valentine,” words by Mary D. Brine, music by R. Goerdeler, 1877. Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music, 1820-1860 & 1870-1885
The romance we associate with Valentine’s Day may spring from the medieval belief that birds select their mates on February 14. During the Middle Ages, lovers recited verse or prose to one another in honor of the day.
Handmade valentines, probably the first greeting cards, appeared in the sixteenth century. Mass production of cards began as early as 1800. Initially hand-tinted by factory workers, by the early twentieth century even fancy lace and ribbon-strewn cards were created by machine.
The Edison Film Catalog describes the film:
Nothing new, but an old thing done over again and done well. Some one has attempted to describe a kiss as ‘something made of nothing,’ but this is not one of that kind, but one of those old fashioned “home made” kind that sets the whole audience into merriment and motion, and has always proven a popular subject. It is very fine photographically and an exhibit is not complete without it.
“Love, Here is my Heart,” music by Lao Silesu, English words by Adrian Ross, performed by Reed Miller, recorded 1921. Inventing Entertainment: the Early Motion Pictures and Sound Recordings of the Edison Companies
- Take in a picture show. The collection Inventing Entertainment: the Early Motion Pictures and Sound Recordings of the Edison Companies contains many films suitable for valentine viewing. Of special interest, R.F.D., 10,000 B.C. is an early twentieth-century animated comedy set on Valentine’s Day 10,000 B.C. Don’t stop there. View the shorter, but equally amusing films, The Gay Shoe Clerk and A Romance of the Rail.
- Holiday plans include dancing? Brush up your steps with the collection An American Ballroom Companion: Dance Instruction Manuals, ca. 1490-1920. Use the manuals and the video clips to learn an old dance.
- Woo your valentine with a song:
- Search on love songs in California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties Collected by Sidney Robertson Cowell to find transcripts and recordings collected for the WPA California Folk Music Project. Listen to “True Lover of Mine,” for example, while reading the transcript.
- Or, search the collection Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music, 1820-1860 & 1870-1885 on valentine to retrieve sheet music for songs like “A Valentine Ballad.”
- Search on valentine in American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 – 1940 to read valentine memories.
- Search on valentines in Photographs from the Chicago Daily News to view images of valentines.
- Consult the Science Reference Guide Cooking with Love and Chocolate: A Valentine’s Day Exhibit to access a list of printed resources compiled by the Library’s Science Reference Services.
- Read about Valentine’s Day within the Web site for kids and families, America’s Story from America’s Library.