In The RAC Magazine’s Jan/Feb 2019 Romance…or Not (Issue #3), C.A. Asbrey’s submission Vinegar Valentines was a fascinating read. Vinegar Valentines were all the rage back in the late 1800s through the early 1900s. They were sarcastic and mean-spirited cards which were often sent to “a rejected suitor or a rival-in-love.”
An excerpt from Author Asbrey’s submission:
These cynical, sarcastic, often mean-spirited greeting cards were first produced in America as early as the 1840s by a variety of printing companies, including Elton, Fisher, Strong and Turner. By the 1870s, other entrepreneurs such as New York printer, John McLoughlin, and his cartoonist, Charles Howard were creating their own lines of cards.
Sold in the United States and Britain, these cards featured an illustration and a short line or poem that, rather than offering messages of love and affection, insulted the recipient.
People sent vinegar valentines as far back as at least 1840. Back then, they were called “mocking,” “insulting,” or “comic” valentines—“vinegar” seems to be a modern description.
So specialized were these cards, particularly those sold in the U.S., Shank writes, that they actually “documented the changing shape of the middle classes.”
Just as card makers today sell valentines targeted for siblings, in-laws, grandparents, or pets, manufacturers during Valentine’s Day’s heyday saw these insulting messages as a way to make money, and it’s clear that consumers liked what they were selling. According to the writer Ruth Webb Lee, by the mid-19th century, vinegar valentines represented about half of all valentine sales in the U.S.
Not everyone was a fan of these mean valentines. In 1857, The Newcastle Weekly Courant complained that “the stationers’ shop windows are full, not of pretty love-tokens, but of vile, ugly, misshapen caricatures of men and women, designed for the special benefit of those who by some chance render themselves unpopular in the humbler circles of life.”
We love Author Asbrey’s conclusion:
These cards are a good reminder that no matter how much people complain that the holiday makes them feel either too pressured to buy the perfect gift or too sad about being single, it could be worse. You could get a message about how everyone thinks you’re an ass.