Passion through the Post: Looking at Valentine's Day in the Archives

By Richard Moss | 14 February 2011
a First World War postcard showing a soldier and Edwardian lady speaking to each other acorss a telelphone wire that stretches across the ocean
A First World War Postcard in the British Postal Museum Archive © BPMA
As Valentine’s Day couples worldwide ponder an evening of cheap bubbly, chocolates and an over-priced table for two at the local restaurant, a timely browse through cards and correspondence in two of the UK’s archives reveals how little the day of love has changed over the years.  

At Glamorgan Archives, letters written up to 200 years ago - highlighted as part of the Archives Awareness Campaign - chronicle tales of passionate affairs and unrequited love in nineteenth century Britain.

An account written in 1886, describes how the elderly Lord Dormar, who became Mrs Edmondes’ fourth husband, proposed to his intended. 

He “was so old and stiff”, that after he had fallen on his knees to propose, Mrs Edmondes was “obliged to ring for the footman to help him up”.

a close-up of hand written letters and envelopes
Love letters from Glamorgan Archives © Glamorgan Archives
Other letters illustrate the kind of obstacles that could thwart Victorian romance.

An insight into the tangled love lives of our Victorian forebears is revealed by the letters of Thomas Deere Salmon, a friend of Miss Charlotte Edmondes of Cowbridge.

Sent in 1865, Thomas writes of his engagement to a Miss Adelaide Gorton. Unfortunately for Thomas, in his next letter he gives Charlotte the news that the engagement is off, citing ‘money matters’ as the reason.

“Adelaide could have also been persuaded to break off the engagement by the offer of a new horse and piano from her father if she didn’t marry Thomas,” reveals Archivist Heather Mountjoy, who says the letters and cards held in the archive “prove that the complexities of love haven’t changed much across the centuries”.  

At the British Postal Museum and Archive, a series of Valentines cards have been published online to offer a rare insight into romantic items in the Postal services’ 800 card collection. 

The display includes the earliest Valentine’s card in postal service, which dates from about 1790 and is known as a Rebus or a ‘puzzle purse’.

A single large sheet of paper folded to a smaller size, the puzzle is to unfold it in the right way to see the small illustrations and read the verses handwritten on the folds. 

Other fascinating items in the collection include a perfume sachet, a silk valentine card, another in the shape of a fan, cards sent from the front line during the First World War and pop-up and pull-out cards.

  • Archive Awareness Campaign is an ongoing celebration of all kinds of fascinating archive treasures, promoting local and national archives.
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