Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day, by John Leech. Punch (1854). This cartoon likely responds to a popular Victorian poem attributed to James Beaton written around 1840, the year that marked the coming of the Penny Post. The poem predicts how the custom of sending valentines would become so popular when one could post a valentine for only a penny:

The letters in St. Valentine so vastly will amount,
Postmen may judge them by the lot, they won't have time to count;
They must bring round spades and measures, to poor love-sick souls
Deliver them by bushels, the same as they do coals. [Qtd. in Hyde 289]

It was common practice for private companies to send coal to homes via deliverymen, sometimes referred to as coal porters or coal bearers. The Punch cartoon shows deliverymen laden with sacks filled not with coal but valentines that they pour into a basement’s coal vault via an opening from the street. The round iron plate that covers the pipe (resembling a manhole cover) rests alongside the opening, and a well-dressed young messenger uses a heart-shaped shovel to scoop not coal but valentines that “so vastly amount” in a fashion that resembles the frequent coal deliveries the Victorians relied on for warmth.

Image from Internet Archive. Text by Catherine Golden; formatting by George P. Landow [This image may be used without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose without prior permission as long as you credit this site, the Internet Archive, and the University of Toronto library.]

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Last modified 5 February 2011