Will You Be Mine? An Exhibition of Early Valentines

Digital Collections Intern Lori Satter shows vintage valentines in this video by the Mount Holyoke College Office of Communications.

An Exhibit, Ground Floor of Dwight Hall, February 7 – February 21, 2011

Each year, the Mount Holyoke Archives and Special Collections displays valentines from the collection in honor of Esther Howland, a Mount Holyoke alumna credited with having established the commercial valentine industry in the United States. Howland graduated from the Seminary in 1847 and, inspired by an ornate English valentine, began creating her own elaborate renditions of the greeting card. The exhibit contains a selection of original valentines made by her New England Valentine Co., as well as some by George C. Whitney, the designer who bought Howland's increasingly popular company in the early 1880s. Other valentines were given to the collection in the personal papers of former faculty members Mildred Allen and Ruth Lawson. They show stylistic shifts within the valentine industry as it endured paper shortages, postcard crazes and a growing nostalgia for the Victorian-style cards that characterized the golden age of valentine production in both Western Europe and the United States.

Click on any of the images to see a larger version.


For more information about the Valentine collection, a detailed finding aid to the collection is available online.


The Valentines shown in this online exhibit date from about 1899-1935. Many of them were printed in Germany or Great Britain.


Like many motion pictures, newspaper cartoons, and other forms of popular entertainment, Valentines sometimes reflected racial and ethnic stereotypes prevalent in the United States.


Several of the most ornate Valentines were made by George Whitney's company.


Valentines with "hinges" that allowed heads, feet, eyes, and flower petals to move must have been particularly entertaining.


To see the valentines in person, visit the lobby of Archives and Special Collections on the ground floor of Dwight Hall.