Reading into Valentines

This semester, AAS is partnering with a class from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, as students there learn about the production and popularity of valentines in America. In an upper level colloquium, Professor Laura Kalba and her students are exploring the connections between nineteenth-century print ephemera and the ephemerality of images in the digital era. “Be […]

A Saucy Valentine

Esther Howland valentines (in business 1848-1881)

This week, AAS was fortunate to receive a hand-made, circa 1830, valentine as a donation.  Society member George K. Fox of California presented the valentine to AAS President Ellen Dunlap at an event at the San Francisco Book Club celebrating the Society’s receipt of the National Humanities Medal. The Society has a large and representative […]

Valentines Outside the Envelope


As has been blogged on Past is Present before, AAS has an extensive and representative assortment of nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century valentines. Part of the Graphic Arts Collection, these ephemeral pieces of affection were exchanged on or before February 14, as Valentine’s Day provided the perfect opportunity to give that special someone a card. Many were […]

When is a Valentine a Newton?

Attribution is something libraries and museums struggle with every day.  Who is the sitter in this portrait?  Who is the author of this pamphlet?  Often the objects give us clues, but not always.  Sometimes they even lead us astray.  This is the story of a pair of daguerreotypes at the American Antiquarian Society and how […]

“Mother of the Valentine”: Esther Howland, Worcester, and the American Valentine Industry

Did you know that the American valentine industry started right here in Worcester in 1848?   That America’s first widely mass-produced valentines were designed by a woman named Esther Howland in her workshop on Summer Street?  That Victorians ate conversation hearts?  That Valentine’s Day greetings were part of a larger cultural debate in early America about […]

My Funny Valentine

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 […]

My Hairy Valentine!


In 2010, the Graphic Arts department will be evaluating and re-housing its collection of nineteenth-century valentines.  We have over 3,000 of these lacy, be-flowered paper objects and they are being sorted to provide better access for readers.  Due to the high number and complexity of each object (some have moving parts, accompanying envelopes, etc., while […]

Perfect Shadows: An Illustrated Inventory of AAS Silhouettes

Stephen Salisbury II, ca. 1870

The American Antiquarian Society’s collection of just over two hundred American silhouettes has recently been cataloged and photographed and an inventory of these profile portraits is now available via a new digital resource. Silhouettes were popular in the United States starting at the end of the eighteenth century. Profile drawings, profile miniatures, and silhouettes all […]

The Acquisitions Table: Calico Dress Ball!

Calico Dress Ball! There Will be a Social Dance at Lyceum Hall, West Acton. Boston: Searle Printing, 1870. This large (42” x 28 ½”) broadside was one of a group of five sheets purchased together, all of which relate to activities in Acton and West Acton, Massachusetts, between 1865 and 1875. Printed in Boston by […]

Tracking down a Big Thing on Ice

Here in Central Massachusetts in July, readers and staff at AAS are experiencing our third heat wave of the summer.  Mind you, heat waves here in New England cannot compete with those that build in the American Southwest, Texas, or the Deep South, but we suffer all the same.  To counter the heat, I decided […]

AAS in the news

The Society has received a lot of great press lately. Two weeks ago Worcester Magazine featured AAS as “Worcester’s hidden gem” in an article by Matthew Stepanski and last week AAS member and Telegram and Gazette columnist Al Southwick called the Society “far more than a collection of books and newspapers. The AAS has become […]