By Polly Guerin, The Fashion Historian
THE POSTMAN COMETH
A popular magazine in 1850 explained the significance of the expected Valentine: “But of all the clamorous visitations in expectation is the sound that ushered in…a Valentine. The knock of the postman on the door this day is light, airy, confident and befitting of one that bringeth good tidings. A blessing on St. Valentine, the patron saint of the day, fraught with so many heart flutterings and heart enjoyments!” As the postman’s footsteps were heard along the street on Valentine’s Day ladies awaited the tell-tale knock at their door, which signaled the momentous arrival of a sweetheart’s sentiments. To be passed by was a devastating personal experience as it was observed by one’s next door neighbor who was peeking out of the window and awaiting the post as well. So much for Victorian foibles! The custom of sending valentines to loved ones was so well established that there was practical help for swains whose feeling went deeper than words. If the muse did not inspire there were little books of love poems, called “valentine writers”, which were available for copying by lovers who could not conjure up an original rhyme. Commercial valentines were soon to lead the way to a prolific business that spread from England to America.
TWO HEARTS ENTWINED
A VALENTINE HEROINE
It was not long before other entrepreneurial individuals recognized a good thing and established similar businesses with valentine cards that bore a striking resemblance to Esther Howland’s. Legend has it that among one of her employees was George Whitney, who later established his own business. The striking resemblance of the Whitney valentines in decorative art collections today proves out the fact that Whitney’s valentines closely resemble those of Esther Howland, even to the small red “W” stamp at the back of each card, similar to the “H” used by Miss Howland. When her widowed father became deathly ill in 1880, his dutiful daughter gave up her business to be at her father’s side.
SHE BROUGHT ROMANCE TO MILLIONS
Polly Guerin honed her skills as an Accessories Editor at the trade fashion bible, Women’s Wear Daily and later taught product knowledge as professor at The Fashion Institute of Technology, where her definitive textbook and video production, Creative Fashion Presentations, is used even today. In 2009 she was a vice-president of RWANYC, and currently serves as a board liaison. Visit her at http://www.pollytalk.com/