In the Victorian Era, People Sent Anonymous 'Vinegar Valentines' for Fun

This 'lemon' Valentine from the Victorian era is a perfect example of the kind of cruelty that could happen on what's typically considered a romantic holiday. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

While many of us are preparing for Valentine's Day with cards, flowers and other signs of affection, there was a time not too long ago when such sentiments also included insults, denigrations and spitefulness.

During the Victorian era, from the late 1830s to the early 20th century, it was common for some unfortunate souls to receive unflattering Valentine's Day cards from anonymous hecklers. Such notes, generally portraying the recipient in caricature form, would insult everything from the person's cruel demeanor to their laziness. The cards were sometimes so distasteful that postmasters would often confiscate them before they reached their intended target.

"There were so many different kinds," Annebella Pollen, a lecturer in art and design history at University of Brighton, U.K., told Collectors Weekly. "You could send them to your neighbors, friends, or enemies. You could send them to your schoolteacher, your boss, or people whose advances you wanted to dismiss. You could send them to people you thought were too ugly or fat, who drank too much, or people acting above their station. There was a card for pretty much every social ailment."

Below are a few more examples of "Vinegar Valentines" from the 19th century that intended to cut, rather than touch, the heart.

A 'rattlesnake' valentine cuts right to the bone. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
This valentine is for a 'simpering miss.'. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Give pity to a poor wounded heart. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
No vote for this true love. (Photo: New York Public Library Digital Collection/Public Domain)