TAMPA, Fl. - Getting that Valentine is a lovely thing… but not exactly a new idea. The oldest known Valentine dates back to the year 1415, when Charles, Duke of Orleans sent his wife a Valentine poem while he was holed up as a prisoner in the Tower of London.
We’ve come a long way to the Valentines of modern day, which can be funny, or coy, or even suggestive. It is fascinating to see how they’ve changed over the years. At the historic Henry B. Plant museum in Tampa, you can get a taste of Valentines from Victorian times.
Private collector Donas Werme has some 800 of them from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, 200 of which are on display at the museum this month. The valentines are rich in detail, from flowers, to lace, to cherubs, angels and children’s faces. Very chaste, but also, very focused. They apparently wasted no time in the Victorian age when it came to courting a sweetheart.
“What’s interesting about the Victorian Valentine is, they were very direct in their message. They said, ‘You’re my only one!’ or ‘ I think of you every hour!’ or ‘I’m devoted to you!’” said head of museum relations, Sally Shifke.
There are Victorian age love poems as part of the collection. Here’s a sample:
My heart is no more
For thou has made of me
A captive by love’s throne.
He ne’er will lose again.
But sweet his bonds have
I would not break the chain
Moved by the tender
Influence of Spring
The flowers blossom and the
Wild birds sing
O good Saint Valentine I ask
Of thee to cause the girl, I love
To think of me.
The vintage valentines will be on display through the end of February at the Henry B. Plant museum in Tampa.