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Customs of St. Valentine’s day changed over the years

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

Next week is Valentine’s Day and the Sophienburg has a display of about 30 of their historic valentines from the early 1900s to the 1950s. The most elaborate and beautiful card is a zephyr (hot air balloon) decorated with a technique called “honeycomb”. Parts of the card fold down and paper doilies are the predominant decoration. The cards are in a display case next to the front desk.

The message and subject on the card gives you a clue to its date. In the early 1900s the message was very sentimental, like “With fond and true affection” and “Sincere and true is my love for you” and decorations looked Victorian with hearts and flowers. Remember the Campbell’s Kids on the soup cans? We have a valentine with those kids and that puts it in the 1920-30 era. Valentine postcards were a big thing. Some are sentimental, but many are humorous, like “I’m looking for one like you to spend my money on”. That one wasn’t signed.

Almost everyone has a Valentine story. One of my favorite stories came from Janelle Berger who told me that when her husband, Dr. Chuck Berger, was in medical practice here in New Braunfels, he accepted a lady’s valentine collection as payment for medical treatment.

While I was teaching, I would wear my 1941 heart bracelet on February 14. The bracelet has 30 hearts engraved with friends and family names. The hearts were soldered on because my mother knew that I liked to take things apart. I used the bracelet to tell the students about WWII and NB. One heart actually has 1941 engraved on the back – the year the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

Five of the hearts predictably have American flags and one has the Liberty Bell which became the icon of defense bond sales. Three hearts have tropical scenes with palm trees, ocean shores, no doubt because of America’s involvement in the South Pacific.

One heart I found at the bottom of Landa Park pool when it was being drained and cleaned. One heart was a sample from Vollmar’s Five and Dime. I didn’t know the “Catherine” that was engraved on the back, but the Vollmars were friends of my family and I was often the recipient of such goodies.

I see that my cat Snoopy went down to Roth’s Jewelry to buy a small heart with a stone on it. Roth’s Jewelry hearts were engraved with a machine and some have beautiful enameled surfaces. Snoopy had good taste.

Heart bracelets were outlawed at school.  I suppose that anything that takes 20 or 30 people to put together makes too much noise. Thank you, Mother, for not letting me take my bracelet apart.

There are as many versions as to how Valentine’s Day started as there are valentines. The history is both interesting and bazaar. Here’s one: In Roman Empire days, the Romans engaged in a pagan practice of putting the names of teenage girls in a box and adolescent boys would draw a name at random. The girls were then assigned to live with the boys for a year, celebrating a young man’s rite of passage. Early church leaders, objecting to this practice and determined to replace this pagan Lupercalia festival on February 14th, substituted St. Valentine, a bishop who had been martyred two hundred years earlier for secretly  marrying couples after Emperor Claudius II banned marriage. February 14th then became St. Valentine’s Day in his honor. The box idea lived on, and with time, into the box were put names of saints. Both men and women drew a name and in turn promised to live like that saint. St. Valentine was the most popular saint.  Valentine boxes have changed dramatically over the years!

Think about this: Valentines have evolved to the Internet. Is the meaning still the same?

Happy Valentine’s Day from the Sophienburg Collection Ladies. Top row, L-R Ann Giambernardi, Georgia Banta, Yvonne Rahe. Sitting, L-R Virginia Nowotny, Madelyn Harris, Helen Hoffmann

Happy Valentine’s Day from the Sophienburg Collection Ladies. Top row, L-R Ann Giambernardi, Georgia Banta, Yvonne Rahe. Sitting, L-R Virginia Nowotny, Madelyn Harris, Helen Hoffmann