In the 1940s
and 1950s, grade school children eagerly awaited February 14. It wasn’t
just another day of the week, but an event. Gaily decorated boxes were
repositories for small paper valentines—and boys and girls wished and
hoped the “apples of their eye” would secretly drop one in.
But sometimes, if you were truly
someone’s “intended,” you might get an extra special valentine—not a
plain old flat one, but one with moving parts. Those so-called
mechanical valentines are receiving attention by collectors everywhere.
Much has been written about the
elaborate, lace- and honeycomb-festooned valentines of the Victorian
era, but few have documented the wonders of mechanical flat valentines
from the 1940s to 1960s. They are always charming, sometimes humorous,
often affordable—and can’t help but recall pleasant memories.
From a historic perspective,
mechanical valentines—defined as those with one or more moving
parts—date back to the 1800s. Every period in the valentine evolution
has had mechanicals, but starting around the 1920s, metal rivets were
affixed to flat (not three-dimensional) valentines to allow a part to
move. The rivet might make an arm wave, a tongue stick out, an umbrella
raise, a seesaw move, an oar row, or legs dance—all upping the interest
level and “wow factor” of the valentines.
“Right after the Depression, they
started making a lot of them to make times happy,” said Katherine
Kreider, a longtime collector/dealer and author of several books on
The main interest in the mechanical
flats—and the primary reason behind the values—is cross collectibility,
“I think it’s all cross
collectibility,” admitted Kreider, who has sold valentines for 15 years
and collected them for more than three decades. “I think categories are
very important, especially in this day and age when everybody is
budgeting their money; they will really now focus more than ever on a
“When you are a collector, you
don’t want to give it up,” she said, but, “You might narrow it down.”
Much like the postcard field, the
vast array of topics and characters makes mechanical flats playful
additions to any collection. “It was fun,” Kreider added. “They crossed
Among the most popular themes
coveted today include occupations, transportation, soldiers and sailors,
Disney and other cartoon characters, and celebrities (Groucho Marx,
Jimmy Durante and Veronica Lake, for example, were depicted on
Collectors also seek valentines
depicting familiar technology of the day—telephones, radios, ironing
boards and typewriters—which remind collectors of their childhood.
Since many mechanical flats remain
affordable, they are an ideal way for collectors to enter the world of
valentines. While rarer and more elaborate Victorian valentines can be
prohibitively expensive, most mechanical flats from the 1940s to 1960s
are available for $20 or less.
Those with puns or plays on words
(such as the word “gay,” which had a very different meaning decades ago)
might have a greater following and interest level. And Kreider added
that Boy Scout and Girl Scout valentines—because of rarity and
demand—could bring top prices of $50 to $100.
Aside from theme, condition and
size are two keys to pricing mechanical flats. Due to their nature,
those with rips, creases, or broken “moving parts” will greatly decrease
in value. “It has less value unless the image is scarce,” Kreider said.
In addition, oversized valentines
with movable parts may bring higher prices, according to several
Aside from finding a character or
verse that touches a collector, most people are thrilled by mechanical
valentines because of the craftsmanship, chromolithographed designs and
inherent humor—much the same as the charm and wonder of pop-up
But should a valentine be signed?
Does it impact value? Kreider said she has agonized over the question
for years. She said that erasing a signature will not increase the value
of a card, but it could leave an imprint on the card, which would likely
valentines is not all black and white. This is actually the gray area of
collecting valentines,” she said.
"Most collectors buy valentines
because they tug at their heart strings for one reason or another, but
there are collectors that want to collect only cards that are not
signed,” she added. Those are known as uncirculated cards, ones that
have “never seen the light of day, never been signed, nor have been
given from the heart.”
As a valentine expert, Kreider
feels comfortable with her current stand on the subject.
“For me, it’s the love factor; each
card in my mind represents love and it represents happiness,” she said.
“I’d like to think that when that card was given, it was received the
same way it was given. It made someone’s day. They took it, kept it and
tucked it away.
“A valentine it not a valentine
until it is given away.”
Shoebox Full of
It’s not uncommon to unearth a
shoebox full of vintage valentines in a relative’s closet, attic, or
dresser drawer. The signatures and sentiments were often saved as tokens
of memories past.
But if you find them and are not a
collector, what do you do with them? Dealer and author Katherine Kreider
said there are many routes to take.
• Consider whether it is worth your
time to sort through the box, sorting out the good, possibly saleable
ones, from the others.
• Seek a professional appraisal of
the items. Note that most appraisers do charge for their services.
• Visit your library/bookstore to
read books about vintage valentines to get an idea of their potential
value. Remember that most may have only modest value, but there could be
some valuable gems in the box.
• Sell them yourself, either
through an antiques publication or online.
• Contact an antiques dealer or a
valentine specialist who can assess the value of the box.
• Most importantly, Kreider said,
be sure to show family members the items and ask if they want any of
them. These sentimental pieces may be coveted by some family members.
“There are many feelings in that shoebox of cards,” she said. “That’s
what valentines are all about.”
The Dating Game
How can you tell the age of
mechanical valentines? Most are unmarked, so buyers must often look for
some earmarks of age.
Often, the style of clothing or
military uniform may help date a piece. The style of dress and
accessories typically reflected the era in which it was made.
Looking for an artists’ name—and
knowing when that artist worked—is another key, although there are few
artist-signed mechanical flats from the 1940s-1960s.
Some valentines are marked “Made in
Germany,” which likely means the piece predates World War II, but use
caution since some items made after the fall of the Berlin Wall are
Looking for Love?
Want more information about vintage
valentines? Check out these Web sites.
Katherine Kreider’s Web site.
The Ephemera Society of America.
http://www.libraries.wvu.edu/exhibits/valentine/ - West Virginia
University’s online exhibit of vintage valentines.