Vinegar Valentines

Nov 26, 2016
central NC

Vinegar valentines were commercially bought postcards that contained an insulting poem and illustration. They were sent anonymously, so the receiver had to guess who disliked him or her. And to add further insult to injury, the recipient had to pay the postage upon delivery. In Civil War Humor, Cameron C. Nickels wrote that vinegar valentines were “tasteless, even vulgar,” and were sent to “drunks, shrews, bachelors, old maids, dandies, flirts, and penny pinchers, and the like.” He added that in 1847, sales between love-minded valentines and these sour notes were split at a major New York valentine publisher. It seems that during the Victorian era, it was quite popular to let someone know they were unwanted or despised with a vinegar valentine. These ugly notes were frequently crass and viewed as the ultimate insult. They were certainly the opposite of the true spirit of Valentine’s Day.

Many vinegar valentines from the mid to late 19th century were drawn by Charles Howard, who did absurd caricatures of the pitiful recipient in full color. An issue of Kindergarten Primary Magazine from 1895 worried about the moral implications of these cards for children. A teacher from Iowa wrote that she staved off the “desire to send vulgar valentines” by telling students stories from St. Valentine’s treacherous life. The magazine said that teachers must do what they could to help “make it a day for kind remembrance rather than a day for wrecking revenge.”

Some vinegar valentines were playful or sarcastic, but most could really sting. “Lady Shoppers” and salesmen were sent or handed vinegar valentines admonishing their values. Some vinegar valentines called physicians names like “Doctor Sure-Death” (a character who ran expensive bills), and others even poked fun at the “stupid postman” who was delivering the mail.


Bruce Vail

1st Lieutenant
Jul 8, 2015
I was in 6th grade around 1968 when vinegar Valentine’s made their last pass around here. Practically everyone got one and they were more silly than really mean but I didn’t like them. After that, we never saw them anymore. I have a feeling the teachers put a ban on them.

I shudder to think what I might have received if this sort of thing had been popular when I was a teen or tween. I feel grateful vinegar valentines went out of fashion.