Dear Readers: Today is Valentine’s Day. Sweethearts are expected to come through with some kind of gift. Florists everywhere will be doing a huge business. Husbands and boyfriends who “forget” will be rushing into candy shops like lunatics. This will be a big day for jewelers, too.
Who dreamed up this scheme to stimulate the economy? Some savvy merchant in the Bronx or a greeting card genius in New York? None of the above.
A few years ago, a reader asked the same question, and I checked with Sally Hopkins, then director of Hallmark’s Historical Collection in Kansas City, Mo. She told me that Valentine’s Day first appeared in England around the time of Queen Victoria. Valentines then were called “Penny Dreadfuls” and “Rude and Crudes.”
These valentines were not messages of love. They were insulting. One pictured an ugly female wearing a bell-like hat. She had a clapper sticking out of her mouth. The valentine message read:
“Your tongue is ever on the swing, and has a harsh, discordant ring.
“How I hate its scolding tone. Your clapper is the curse of home.”
Another valentine message, meaner still, was this one: “I’ll treat you with scorn, whenever we pass.
“You deceitful, oily-tongued snake in the grass.”
In the early 1800s, the Chicago Post Office refused to deliver 20,000 of those cards on the grounds that they were “vicious and obscene.” I wonder what the civil libertarians would say today about such abridgment of free speech.
Meanwhile, for those of you who prefer to celebrate Valentine’s Day in the 20th century manner, here’s a letter that will warm your heart:
Dear Ann Landers: I am 74 years young and I’ve been married for 52 years to the most wonderful woman in the world.
The good Lord blessed me when he sat Mary Lou next to me on the street car that rainy day in April. We lived in New Orleans then and the street car ran on St. Charles Street. Mary Lou was a student at Sophie Newcombe women’s college and I was a senior at Tulane. I asked her if she’d like to share my umbrella.
We were married on her 22nd birthday. One year later, she presented me with a son. The next year, we had twins - a boy and a girl - both healthy and beautiful. We have had a wonderful life together, and our children all turned out well - a doctor, a lawyer and a clergyman.
I would love to give her the Hope Diamond for Valentine’s Day, but I can’t afford it. Please print this letter on Feb. 14. It would be the best gift ever. - Charlie
Dear Charlie: Here it is. Happy Valentine’s Day.
I would also like to say Happy Valentine’s Day to our veterans in VA hospitals around the country. And a special thanks to all my readers who took the time to send them valentines this year.
Dear Ann Landers: It’s been said a man and his dog begin to look alike after they’ve been together for years. If true, perhaps wild animals that live around us reflect our personalities, also:
Your basic, everyday barn owl says, “Whooo, whooo.” An English professor’s owl might say, “Whom, whom.” A neurotic person’s owl might say, “Why? Why?” Sigmund Freud’s owl might have said, “Why not? Why not?” A New York City cab driver’s owl might say, “Same to you, buddy!” - Max Goldberg, Boise
Dear Max: That New York cabbie’s owl might also say, “Thank you.” They are a lot more polite these days.
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