Silk, satin, cotton, wool
Dressed, you look a perfect doll;
Ribbons, feathers, flowers, lace
Can’t make amends for such a face.
The verse is from an 18th Century “penny dreadful” — one of 15,000 in Diane Apfelbaum’s collection of antique valentines.
Mrs Apfelbaum, 46, who is vice president of her husband’s stamp firm in Philadelphia, collects old valentines she finds on buying trips throughout the United States and Europe.
Most of the fancy, hand-made valentines in her collection date back to the mid-19th century. Some are decorated with lace, ribbons and flowers painted on silk. There are also three-dimensional “standup” valentines, which unfold to reveal cupids, hearts, flowers and sentimental verses.
Besides the European penny dreadfuls, or comics, of the late 1880s, Mrs Apfelbaum is partial to valentines of the sentimental ilk.
“At the time of Civil War, valentines were lovely and flowery and often used as proposals of marriage by young men who didn’t want to talk of such things. Then, late in the 19th century, people changed and sentiment became uncomfortable… which led to the sarcastic, biting comic valentines.
“Today, instead of expressing our feelings and taking time to make something nice, we have allowed Valentine’s Day to become terribly commercial. Now most valentines are purchased by the boxful by schoolchildren and handed out by a teacher in the classroom. That makes me feel sad and disillusioned.”
Mrs Apfelbaum said she began collecting valentines about five years ago after all her four children were of school age.
“I wasn’t a stamp person at the time: no background, no interest and equipped for zilch,” she said. “So in order to learn the business, I began to study postal history. I discovered the best way to start a collection and I chose antique valentines, each one complete with its ‘cover,’ which is the mailing envelope, stamped and postmarked.
“There are two sides to this. The covers had philatelic value, and the valentines were something that interested me.”
Mrs Apfelbaum said that at the turn of the century, people sent do-it-yourself valentines assembled from store-bought paper lace, hearts, cupids and flowers. They would add their own hand-written verse.
Valentines in her collection with decorated and printed covers, which sold for a penny or two in the 1800s, are worth upwards of $150 today.
Mrs Apfelbaum says she always sends valentines to her husband, children, nieces and nephews.
“And I shop around for the pretty ones,” she said. “Nothing funny. I just think it’s a nice way to show you care.