The custom of exchanging love notes goes back to the Roman Lupercalia festival with the names being drawn. But the British were the ones who popularized sending your feelings to someone via a printed card. Chrles, Duke of Orleans, imprisoned in the tower of London for several years following the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, created the first Valentine card. He sent Valentine poems to his wife in France from his jail cell. Commercial Valentines didn't appears until 1800 (In England) and although handmade cards had been around for years. In the 19th century a new kind of Valentine emerged called "penny dreadful" that were insulting and cruel rather than loving and flattering. They were mostly sent anonymously too.
In America, hand-made Valentines appeared around 1740 and were sealed with red wax and left secretly on a lover's doorstep or sent in the mail. Commercial cards for the most part took over around 1880's. But people still and will always make homemade ones too. Some included trinkets, some locks of hair and in some cases there were checks that were drawn against "The Bank of Love" and valentines printed to look like money. One was so realistic to a 5-pound note it was quickly recalled!
Valentine verses were romantic, whimsical and critical. Postage was expensive. And during the English Victorian times the custom was that the recipient paid for the mail they got
Walter Crane and Kate Greenaway were famous children's book illustrators of their time. At the age of 22, Kate sold her first Valentine design for $15. Within weeks, over 25,000 copies were sold. For a few years after, she kept designing Valentines, but was never paid a penny more. Today, Kate Greenaway Valentine's are considered collectable items, as well as those designed by Walter Crane.
When Valentine Cards got to America, they also got more creative. The first known to come to the US is a note written by John Winthrop in 1629 to his wife before leaving England for the New World. It ended with "My sweet wife, Thou must be my valentine for none hat challenged me." He later became governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Valentines were not only done in delicate pen and ink, but also watercolor and the handwriting also became a thing of beauty for the card as well, as good penmanship was considered a form of art, as well as the quality of a person.
Acrostic Valentines - had verses in which the first letter of the lines spelled out the loved one's name.
Example : name Amanda.
A - Another moment without you is
M - more pain than I can bear.
A- And no other love will ever be
N - nearer to my heart than yours.
D - Days pass slowly until we shall meet
A -again and our lives forever share.
Cutout Valentines (which most children do in school today also) were simply made by folding paper several times and then cutting out small areas to make lacelike designs.
Pinprick Valentines were made by pricking tiny paper holes with a pin or needled into the paper into a lovely design.
Theorem or Poonah Valentines had designs that were painted through a stencil cut in oil paper (style originated in the Orient) with a coat of gum Arabic to keep the paint from running.
Rebus Valentines had verses in which tiny pictures took the place of some of the words.
Puzzle Valentines - Had a puzzle to read and refold, in which scattered among their many folds were verses that had to be read in a certain order. I remember making these in school in which they ended up like a pyramid in which you put your index finger and thumb of both hands on both sides and moved the puzzle valentine North to South and East To West chanting some silly rhyme until you stopped and could chose a flap to open and read.
Fraktur Valentines - had ornamental lettering in the stle of illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages.
But, Valentines did not always come via paper and lace.
Many sailors would return from their voyages bringing silk scarves (or other items) to their wives or girlfriends that had designs of hearts, flowers and other romantic images or words. And, in return many of the wives or girlfriends of those sailors (before they took off to sea) made them stronger bundles decorated with loving images and thoughts (and filled with items) to take with them on their voyages to think of them.
And during the Civil War some of the Valentines were more like paper dolls that were actually dressed with cloth (or paper) to try to resemble the person sending it.
And during the Roaring Twenties, some valentines were actually shaped like tomatoes. At that time, tomatoes only grew in flower gardens and were considered "love apples."