Recent AAS fellow Hugh McIntosh recently spent some time with our Valentines Collection. This collection includes some of the frilly, lovey-dovey valentines one would expect, but also some unexpected gems! The comic valentines of the 19th century in particular caught Hugh’s eye, and he shares the following about his look at the 19th century’s sense of humor.
Ranging from satirical to insulting, these cartoons offer a window into the belligerent side of nineteenth-century romance. Most are accompanied by short, comic poems, many of them ending with some variation on the line, “You will never be my Valentine.” The collection includes caricatures of several professions, such as country newspaper editors, “quack” doctors, and a sadistic dentist, “Dr. Forcepts,” grinning over a huge tooth he’s just pulled. Barroom characters are popular targets as well—“topers,” “bummers,” and “sots.”
Cards depicting females make fun of overly fashionable young women and overbearing wives. One especially memorable example is addressed to “The Broom,” portrayed as a domestic weapon with an angry woman’s face. In contrast, many of the Civil-War-themed comic valentines depict soldiers who are either too timid or too clumsy to fight. In a parody of sentimentalized wartime romance, one Union soldier, crouching down to propose to his sweetheart, ends up sitting on one of his riding spurs. Alongside these specific cartoons, a few of the cards ridicule love more abstractly, such as this simple image of a hammer about to crush a heart.