Vinegar Valentines: 19th Century's Insulting, Anonymous Card-Sending Trend

By | February 7, 2020

Vinegar Valentines were insulting in every way

If you're lucky enough to have a special someone in your life, there's nothing better than giving or receiving a Valentine. Who doesn't like to know that they're the object of someone's affection? On the other hand, just because it's Valentine's Day doesn't mean that everyone is handing out love poems. In the Victorian era, if you had an unwanted suitor, there was a very specific way to get rid of them: a Vinegar Valentine. These nasty cards and unwelcome notes were sometimes crass, always funny, and definitely mean. Anyone who received one of these bad boys definitely got the point.

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Source: The Strong

It's not just that Vinegar Valentines were rude, which they definitely were. Their entire purpose was to make the recipient feel like scum. The cards were sent anonymously, so the receiver didn't even know who was telling them to buzz off; they just knew that someone hated them. To add insult to insult, the recipient had to pay for the delivery of the card. They weren't just learning that someone in their life thought they were a jerk; they were paying for the privilege (of a vinegar valentine).

Just as many Vinegar Valentines were sold as regular Valentines

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Source: Royal Pavilion & Museums

You might think that Vinegar Valentines fell out of favor because they were unpopular, but nothing could be further from the truth. In 1847, sales of both kinds of cards were equal, with just as many sweeties finding out about their secret admirers as their horrid counterparts learning that they were social pariahs. Cameron C. Nickels of Civil War Humor wrote that the cards were "tasteless, even vulgar" and that they were most often sent to "drunks, shrews, bachelors, old maids, dandies, flirts, and penny pinchers, and the like." Today, these cards would be seen as slow-motion bullying, but in the Victorian Era, they were a beloved form of rude entertainment.