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Over the course of the blog we seem to have been mildly obsessed with identifying would-be lovers, beautifying ourselves for them and secretly communicating with them. But as valentine season approaches it might be time to start thinking about how to actually win their favour!

If the amount of 19th century chapbooks on valentines writing is anything to go by, a sentimental verse is just the thing. So too apparently is a massively over-adorned and fussy card. Valentine’s Day was celebrated with gusto in Victorian times and the popularity of card giving, meant the festival became a highly lucrative industry. Cards started to be produced commercially in the tens of thousands; they were adorned with lace, feathers, glass, dried flowers, mirrors and ribbons. They were embossed and in the case of our examples 3D [1] [2].  

There was also a market in verses. For those unable to compose their own were aided by a whole trade of sentimental verse production. This had started in 1797 with The Young Man’s Valentine Writer. Though printers had begun to produce cards with messages, writing aids were still the vogue in the late 1800’s and these we have a wealth of [2]. Verses were tailored to suit ‘all ranks and conditions of lovers, and would-be lovers’. Varying dispositions, circumstances, trades, humours and ages were all covered. The books we hold have example poems from gentlemen, ladies, cooks and housemaids, tailors, drovers, sailors, doctors, blacksmiths, even from a person with bad teeth and creepily from an intruder … All however are brilliantly cheesy:

 From an engineer:

Wilt thou vouchsafe to smile, my dear

On your subsequious engineer?

My heart is burning, without doubt,

No engine can the flame put out.

Verse books also provided answers to those receiving cards from the above groups, and were both favourable and unfavourable.

 From a fishmonger:

Thy skin is a whiting, thy eyes

As bright as the scales of my fish

My turtle, my sole, thee I prize,

Accede then, I pray to my wish.

Favourable answer:

Ah me! You’ve caught me in your net,

And from your bait I can’t get free

Well then remember don’t forget

You are the valentine for me.

Unfavourable answer:

Sir, as a flounder, I am flat

And have been so through all my life

So flatly tell you – worthless sprat

I never will become your wife.

Some tried to discourage and ward off and were, I feel, a little harsh. 

From a lady to an anti-reformer:

A sordid griping tyrant you are known,

No generous feeling’s by you ever shown …

Enslaved by vice, for plunder still you pine

Rather I’d die than be your valentine.

And of course there were tricky puzzles to crack

To a lady: Fles sih evol resim eht tel,

                      Tra erusaert ym uoht,

So if you’re feeling a little lost for words this Valentine’s rush down to Rare Books, request a chapbook, and tell that special some one … a poem that they may find a little weird … Just beware of the reply.