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Vinegar Valentines - A Long Lost Tradition

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Vinegar Valentines - A Long Lost Tradition

Magdalena Mora

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, imagine that instead of opening your mailbox to the usual heart-shaped envelopes and frilly cards (or utilities bills), you received an anonymous note that read:

Hey, Lover Boy, the place for you
Is home upon the shelf,
Cause the only one who’d kiss you
Is...A Jackass like yourself!

In the late 1800’s/ early 1900’s, in lieu of love letters, people sometimes received Vinegar Valentines. Rather than declarations of affection, these “valentines” contained short poems, accompanied by an exaggerated caricature. The notes usually targeted a person’s appearance, intelligence, behavior, or character— the Victorian-era version of trolling.

The valentines functioned almost like an anonymous system of checks and balances. People were alerted to (or reminded of) their faults. Though the mass produced cards addressed all matter of offending behavior, they targeted women and “hen-picked” men most frequently. One Vinegar Valentine depicts a woman in a fur stool and elaborate hat carrying a luggage bag with a man wrapped inside. She’s holding a yellow note with the words “his salary” in her other hand. The valentine reads:

    Your wifey holds you, in her hands.

    You dare not disobey commands.

    And every single cent you earn

    She takes--and so has money to burn.

Also, before the invention of the pre-paid postage stamp, people had to pay to receive their mail. As if to add insult to injury, Vinegar Valentine’s recipients had to pay for their own mocking. Yay romance!