Comic Valentines became hugely popular in the mid 19th century and yet they are almost unheard of today. In complete contrast to the romantic Valentine proclaiming feelings of admiration and love, the comic Valentine was sent purely to mock and insult.
In the early 1800s, publishers in Britain were producing verses in Valentine Writers to be used in caricatures, the earliest form of comic Valentines. By the 1840s, comic Valentines were more popular than ever, being mass-produced and sent in their thousands to unwitting recipients. Their popularity could be in part due to their affordability both to buy and to send. In contrast to the expensive, elaborately decorated, sentimental Valentine, comics were cheaply made and printed on to a single sheet of thin paper.
Men would often send comic Valentines to other male friends, lampooning their chosen trade or mocking their characteristics, cruelly pointing out the reason why they had so far failed to secure a love match. Some examples of comic Valentines are quite shocking in their blatant attempt to humiliate and scorn; any intended humour is all but lost.
By the late 1800s, Britain's love affair with comic Valentines was all but over. Regarded as venomous and vulgar, such caustic missives offended delicate, Victorian sensibilities and sales were boycotted.
Following the late Victorians' demand for a return of public decency and decorum, Valentine's day and its traditions generally fell out of favour. It was only to regain popularity some years later with the outbreak of World War I, with parted lovers sending cards and messages across the sea.
Comic Valentines are increasingly difficult for collectors to find today. Due to their very nature, the recipient was unlikely to regard such an item as a treasured possession and so it was destroyed.
Further reading about Valentines:
Lee, R.W. (1953) A History of Valentines