Ah, Valentine's Day: when history curators' thoughts turn to love. This Valentine's Day, we asked members of our curatorial staff to share a favorite item related to the holiday. Here's Curator of Graphic Arts Helena E. Wright's pick.
This special valentine has a long history in the Ream family. David Ream and Marion Hartman were married in 1915. We don't know when David presented the card to Marion—perhaps in anticipation of their marriage or to acknowledge their status as wedded valentines—but every year Marion Ream placed it on display in their Pennsylvania home to celebrate Valentine's Day.
The sweet tradition was continued by their granddaughter Pat Compher who donated this card with its lovely family story to the museum in 2013.
The fancy card with die-cut trellises and swags of flowers unfolds to stand upright. It pictures a young man arriving by automobile with flowers and cupids to woo his lady love.
The museum's Transportation Curator Roger White dates the vehicle to about 1900, which is consistent with the period of the Reams' courtship. The auto is not intended to represent a specific model or year, but it does convey speed and modernity as well as a lavish mode of romance.
Many greeting cards, postcards, calendars, and other colorful items of advertising and trade like this one were made in Germany for an international market from about the 1880s to World War I. No maker's name appears on the card but it says "Printed in Germany," which suggests it was made before 1915. Elaborate die-cut motifs and multiple colors were specialties of the German printing industry at the time. This card was relatively expensive; it cost one dollar, much more than the "penny" valentines exchanged by school children.
The museum has thousands of greeting cards in our Archives Center, including business records and cards dating from 1800 to 1981 in the Norcross Greeting Card Collection, which merged with the Rust-Craft Company and incorporated its holdings of historical cards. In the Graphic Arts Collection, there are hundreds more that represent different printing techniques and original cards made by artists. The Ream family valentine is remarkable, however, for its record of reception and use within one family and its treasured re-appearance every February 14th for many years.
Helena E. Wright is the Curator of Graphic Arts in the Division of Culture and the Arts. This is her second holiday graphics post, following her post on graphic arts for winter holidays.