The language of flowers in valentine cards

Rimmel's almanac: Language of Flowers, 1884 (cover)
Rimmel’s almanac: Language of Flowers, 1863
Manuscript bouquet, with meanings under the flowers
Manuscript bouquet, with meanings under the flowers

Valentine cards of the nineteenth century very often incorporated flowers, either as the main image, decoration or both.  The choice of flower was by no means accidental: each bloom had a meaning, understood (but how well?) by both sender and recipient.  Although red roses are the universal symbol of love even now, pansies are still associated with thoughts and lilies with purity, the meaning associated with most other flowers has been lost over time.

 

Decoding the language of flowers is not easy. Apart from inevitable variants according to the sources used, a fairly thorough botanical knowledge is called for.  Kate Greenaway (in 1884) has 33 entries for rose, all with different meanings: The language of flowers, [1884]

https://archive.org/details/languageofflower00gree

 

Valentine card with roses around a harp
Mixed roses: I live for thee
Mixed roses: Sincere affection

 

Tulips

A yellow tulip signified hopeless love or cheerful thoughts, but a red one a declaration of love, while variegated tulips conveyed beautiful eyes.

Then, there are the mixed bouquets!  Combinations of flowers pose particular problems to the 21st century viewer.

Since most valentines were composed of different elements, the intention could be clarified by the scrap bearing the text, itself sometimes incorporating a flower.

 

Scrap sheet

This year’s joint project with the National Valentine Association (USA) has led us to digitise scores of valentines from the John Johnson Collection, which can be seen online for the first time and to share via Pinterest images from other collections, institutional and private, British and American: https://uk.pinterest.com/johnjohnsoncoll/

We have also included Mullord Bros’ card game: The language of flowers, which gives a guide to flowers’ meanings in the late 19th century, taken from ‘the best authorities’.

If you can add to our knowledge of the power of the flower to impart meaning, or if you would like to share valentines from your own collection with us on our Pinterest site, please email jjcoll@bodleian.ox.ac.uk

Like to know more?

Hundreds of dictionaries of ‘floriography’ were published in Victorian Britain. Some 19th century British and American sources easily consulted online include:

The language of flowers: an alphabet of floral emblems London, New York, 1857: https://archive.org/details/languageofflower00lond

Adams, Henry Gardiner The language and poetry of flowers New York, Derby & Jackson, 1853: https://archive.org/details/languagepoetryof00adamiala

Ingram, John Henry. Flora symbolica; or, The language and sentiment of flowers. Including floral poetry, original and selected. London, F. Warne & Co, 1869: https://archive.org/details/florasymbolicaor00ingr

The language and poetry of flowers, and poetic handbook of wedding anniversary pieces, album verses, and valentines, New York, Hurst & Company, 1878: https://archive.org/details/cu31924067884076

Puzzling valentines: rebuses, puzzle purses & endless knots on our Pinterest site

This year’s collaborative Pinterest project between the John Johnson Collection and the National Valentine Collectors Association (USA) focuses on the proclamation of love in rebuses, knots and puzzles. These all have their roots in much earlier forms, and mark a convergence of German, Pennsylvanian and British traditions.

In The valentine and its origins, Frank Staff shows examples of a rebus and of an endless knot from from Witts Recreations selected from the finest fancies of modern muses (London, 1641). He also demonstrates clearly the link between the German tradition of Freundschaftkarten (literally friendship card) and Irrgarten (labyrinth) and the Pennsylvanian Fraktur, puzzle purses and love knots.

Rebuses

The rebuses we show on our Pinterest page date mainly from the 18th and early 19th centuries, with some later, simpler, examples. These valentine rebuses are part of a much wider tradition. In the John Johnson Collection there is a fascinating folder of Hieroglyphic letters from the same period on subjects (mostly) other than love. These are similar to the examples in the Mercurius Politicus blog.

We thought it would be fun for you to try some and will be posting these on Twitter too.

rebus for blog

rebus2 max

Both (C) Bodleian Library: John Johnson Collection: Valentines 6

Puzzle purses

Puzzle purses differ from other mechanical valentines in their elaborate folds. Not only did the recipient have to work out in what order the message should be read, but re-folding the puzzle purse was no easy matter!  The folds were numbered and revealed poems and (carefully enclosed in the centre) often a lock of hair or a ring.  Nancy Rosin, President of the National Valentine Collectors Association, has a wonderful article about the mechanics of these online in her Victorian Treasury.

image2

(C) Nancy Rosin Collection

Endless knots

Symbolic of never ending love, Endless knots or True-love knots, on the other hand, can be read in any order.  These sometimes took the form of cut-out work, or could be incorporated into the design of more elaborate valentines.

image1

(C) Nancy Rosin Collection

Do you have examples of any of these? If so, please send images to jjcoll@bodleian.ox.ac.uk and we can pin them.

 

Our new Pinterest site: World War One Romance

World War One romance

As in previous years, we are collaborating with the National Valentine Collectors Association (USA) to highlight an aspect of valentine production.  This year, we strike a more sombre note, with valentine postcards from the First World War. This forms part of our commemoration of WWI, mainly through the John Fraser Collection of Propaganda Postcards.

Although we show a few examples from the USA, valentines themselves were, unsurprisingly, uncommon in the war years.  Instead, separated from their loved ones, men and women sent tokens of love in the form of postcards to and from the trenches to keep their romance alive. Sentimental postcards, often showing couples pining for each other across the miles, were sometimes produced in series, chronicling each verse of a popular song.

JFP-GB6-71

Woven silk postcards were produced by French women for soldiers to buy and send home. The greetings are by no means confined to valentines, but include  birthdays, Christmas, New Year, good luck cards and souvenirs.

Pin cushion valentines were often produced by disabled soldiers for rehabilitation. Elaborate designs often incorporated regimental colours.

Sugar and spice… but what are Valentines made of?

pinterest screen shot

The new John Johnson Pinterest site aims to answer this question by finding examples of each element of valentine manufacture. We draw on valentines not only from the John Johnson and Harding collections at the Bodleian,  but also from Nancy Rosin and the National Valentine Collectors Association (USA), with whom we are delighted to collaborate again this year, from the Museum of London (whose 1871 valentines are online)  and from Michael Russo.  This is only the beginning. We hope that collectors and institutions will draw our attention to other elements to be found in valentines and allow us to pin examples of these, so that we can build up these Pinterest folders into a scholarly resource for anyone interested in valentines.  Please send contributions to jjcoll@bodleian.ox.ac.uk

The manufacture of elaborate valentines in the Victorian era fascinated Charles Dickens and continues to intrigue us today.  These were true confections, made by hand: imaginative, but repetitive. While the printing and embossing was done by men, each of the  female workers (referred to as ‘nymphs’ by Dickens) added a precise piece to the ensemble: a colour from a watercolour pot, a scrap, a paper or fabric flower, a tinsel ornament, a shell, a glass bead, gauze, lace, netting….  The results, protected in boxes, were luxurious love tokens, far from the cruelty of  crude contemporary ‘comic’ valentines.

makingvalentinessmall

Dickens’ article published on Febrary 20 1864 as Cupid’s Manufactory (All the Year Round, volume XI, pp 36-40) is now online through the wonderful Dickens Journals Online project (University of Buckingham).  Flamboyant in style, the article describes in meticulous detail the process of  making valentines at the (unnamed) manufactory of Joseph Mansell and lists the componenents he saw being applied to the embossed lace paper which is the basis of most elaborate valentines.

This page from the Illustrated London News of February 14 1874 shows the whole process, very much as described by Dickens ten years earlier, but at the premises of George Meek and the workshop of Eugene Rimmel.

For more information about valentines in the context of the John Johnson Collection, see the two posts on this blog (February 2012, February 2013) and the online pages from The season for love (exhibition 2010). For the wider context, see the valentine entries from The John Johnson Collection’s Ephemera Resources blog.

Rimmel’s scented world

It is Valentine time again.  In 2010 we mounted a small exhibition called The season for love  in the Proscholium of the Bodleian Library.   Last year, there was an international initiative on Twitter (#loveheritage) led by #AskArchivists to surface valentine collections, which resulted in our little  online gallery of comic valentines.

This year it is a great pleasure to collaborate with the National Valentine Collectors Association to highlight the valentines of Eugène Rimmel (1820–1887).   Also online are the excellent special Rimmel issue of  the Valentine Writer  (newsletter of the National Valentine Collectors Association) by Nancy Rosin, and Malcolm Warrington’s beautiful online Rimmel exhibition.

January-February from Rimmel's 1877 'Topsy Turvy' pocket almanac
From Rimmel’s 1877 Topsy-Turvy pocket almanac. JJ: Beauty Parlour 4 (11b). (C) Bodleian Library & ProQuest

Images: all images are from the John Johnson Collection (JJ) and are copyright Bodleian Library, University of Oxford (and, where indicated) ProQuest. Click to see the large images, but do not reproduce any images without permission.

Rimmel in the John Johnson Collection

While we have 20 boxes and several albums of valentines in the John Johnson Collection, there are very few Rimmel valentines.  However, we hold a wealth of ephemera relating to the varied activities of the firm. Advertisements for perfumes, table fountains,  disinfectors, soaps, Christmas novelties, Easter eggs, fans, etc,  are outside the scope of this blog, but much of this material has been digitised as part of ProQuest’s The John Johnson Collection: an archive of printed ephemera (freely available in the UK through FE, HE, public libraries and schools, and by institutional subscription elsewhere).  I will explore here valentine-related advertising and, more widely, Rimmel’s relationship with the Theatre, whose programmes he used extensively to advertise his valentines and other seasonal merchandise.

Eugene Rimmel trade card
Trade card for Eugène Rimmel [1847-1857]. JJ: Trade Cards 5 (33). (C) Bodleian Library & ProQuest
Eugène Rimmel (1820–1887) came to England from France and, with his father, established a perfumery business in London in 1834.   From 1847 to 1857, he was in Gerrard St, Soho, with a branch in Paris at 19 boulevard de la Gare d’Ivry (now boulevard Vincent Auriol) in the 13th arrondissement. His claim to fame was as ‘sole proprietor of the toilet vinegar’ (an aromatic vinegar used as an emollient).  He already enjoyed the Queen’s patronage.

At the Great Exhibition of 1851, Rimmel attracted much attention for his  ‘Great Exhibition Bouquet’ and his Perfume Fountain, which was also used in the Exhibition of Art and Art-Industry in Dublin (1853) and the New York Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations (1853–1854).

Rimmel advertisement
Eugene Rimmel advertisement, showing the Fountain of Toilet Vinegar. JJ: Beauty Parlour 4 (14)  (C) Bodleian Library & ProQuest
Rimmel's premises, 1861
Rimmel’s 1861 perfumed almanack, showing his premises at 96 Strand. JJ Beauty Parlour 4 (1*a) (C) Bodleian Library & ProQuest

By 1861, Rimmel had premises at 96 Strand, 24 Cornhill and the Crystal Palace, Sydenham. In Paris, he was now in the more fashionable boulevard des Italiens (one of the grands boulevards) and there was another branch in Berlin. Rimmel’s royal patrons now included Queen Victoria, the King and Queen of Spain and the King of Portugal. He was ‘inventor and patentee of the perfume vaporizer, for balls, soirées, theatres, etc.’

Rimmel's perfume fountain
Rimmel’s 1861 perfumed almanack, showing the perfume fountain
Text re uses of Rimmel's vaporizer from advertisement, 1862
Detail from a Vaporizer advertisement of 1862, listing the prestigious venues in which Rimmel’s vaporizer was used. JJ: Soap 1 (23) (C) Bodleian Library & ProQuest

Rimmel used perfume imaginatively, to scent sachet valentines and theatre and concert programmes, including the fine Japanese programmes of the Royal Aquarium (detail below), which were perfumed with E. Rimmel’s Royal Aquarium Bouquet .

 Imprint of Royal Aquarium programme, Nov. 12th, 1887
Imprint of Royal Aquarium programme, 12 November 1887. JJ: Entertainments folder 13 (7) (C) Bodleian Library & ProQuest

At the Haymarket in 1889, Rimmel’s Perdita Bouquet, dedicated to the famous actress Mary Anderson, and other perfumes were sold at the bars.

The Rimmel publicity machine was impressive. We have programmes in the John Johnson Collection from The Adelphi, Avenue Theatre, Canterbury Theatre of Varieties, Covent Garden, Drury Lane, Queen’s Theatre, Royal Alhambra Palace, Royal Aquarium, Royal Globe and Royalty theatres that proclaim they are perfumed by Rimmel.  Undoubtedly, there were others.  It is likely that the programmes (for a far wider range of theatres) that carry his advertisements or which are embossed ‘Rimmel’ were also perfumed. Where there is no statement to that effect we cannot be sure, and the perfume itself has of course long since evaporated!

playbill showing use of Rimmel perfume in performance
Playbill. Theatre Royal, New Adelphi, 29 February 1864. JJ London Playbills Adelphi box 1 (17)
(C) Bodleian Library & ProQuest

Rimmel’s perfumes were also integrated into his productions, such as Evanion’s An evening of illusions [c. 1871] and  at the Theatre Royal, New Adelphi in February 1864 (left and below)

Detail from New Adelphi playbill
Detail from New Adelphi playbill

and at W.S. Woodin’s Cabinet of Curiosities.

detail from W.S. Woodin playbill
Detail from W.S. Woodin Cabinet of curiosities playbill, [1861?] JJ Entertainments folder 5 (25) (C) Bodleian Library & ProQuest
detail of Drury Lane programme, 24 Oct 1873
Detail from Drury Lane programme, 25 Oct 1873 for Anthony & Cleopatra. JJ London Playbills Drury Lane box 2 (4) (C) Bodleian Library & ProQuest

For Antony & Cleopatra at Drury Lane, a ‘Persian ribbon’ was used to scent the scene

valentine advertising from Astley's programme, Boxing Night [1869]
Back page of Astley’s programme, Boxing Night, [1869]. JJ London Playbills Apollo – Astley’s (69) (C) Bodleian Library & ProQuest
The advantage of theatre programmes and playbills was that they were printed frequently, sometimes daily. They were, therefore, ideal vehicles for seasonal advertising. In our holdings are programmes advertising valentines from 1869 to 1873, and for 1875 to 1880, 1885 and 1887.

Valentine advertisement from Drury Lane Theatre programme, 1879
Advertisement from 1879 Drury Lane programme. JJ: London Playbills Drury Lane box 2 (14) (C) Bodleian Library & ProQuest

This 1879 advertisement on the back page of a Drury Lane programme for The lost letter and Blue Beard shows that valentines were marketed for children.  Rimmel used his countrymen Jules Chéret (more famous for his posters) and Faustin as designers of valentines.

Chéret ran a lithographic printing firm in the rue Brunel in Paris and many of Rimmel’s lithographed advertisements and almanacs carry his imprint.

Detail from back cover of Rimmel almanac, 1874
Detail from back cover of Rimmel almanac, 1874. JJ: Beauty Parlour 4 (9b)
(C) Bodleian Library & ProQuest

Although the annual almanacs were beautifully chromolithographed. the advertising pages (which sometimes refer to valentines) were usually modest.advertising page from 1886 comic almanac

Advertising page from Rimmel’s comic almanac pocket-book, 1886. JJ Beauty Parlour 4 (13) (C) Bodleian Library & ProQuestIt was in his magazine inserts that Rimmel could indulge in more fanciful illustration, often again by Chéret.  We have four-page valentine advertisements for 1868, 1869 and 1872-1874, variously printed by Chéret, Stephen Austin (Hertford) and Charles Terry (High Holborn).

Front page of Rimmel's 1867 valentine advertisement
Advertising leaflet for valentines, 1867. Cover (above), inside spread (below), back cover (right). JJ: Stationery 9. (C) Bodleian Library

Insert1867backlow

Insert 1867 openinglow.

Covers of two Rimmel advertising leaflets, 1872 and 1873
Covers of two Rimmel advertising leaflets, 1872 and 1873, showing how Rimmel responded to the preoccupations of his time. JJ: Stationery 9 (C) Bodleian Library
The Manufacture of Valentines. Illustrated London News 14 Feb 1787.
The Manufacture of Valentines. Illustrated London News 14 Feb 1787. JJ Valentines folder (C) Bodleian Library

The Rimmel empire continued to expand, with branches in Brighton, Florence, The Hague, Amsterdam, Brussels and Liège by 1874.

On 14 February 1874, The Illustrated London News showed and described the manufacture of valentines at the printing works of George Meek and the valentine workshop of Eugène Rimmel.

Just in time! In March 1875, a fire totally destroyed Beaufort House, the hub of the valentine side of the business. However, valentines continued to be produced, as evidenced by references to Rimmel’s ‘perfumed valentines, all novel and elegant, in great variety. Detailed list on application’ in a Rimmel advert on the back page of a Royal Princess’s Theatre programme for 28 June 1887, for example.    However, references to Rimmel valentines are fewer and more modest.  The otherwise rich online source for Rimmel research: 19th century UK periodicals (Gale, by subscription) has no results for advertising in magazines beyond 1877.   However, as late as 1888, there are small advertisements for Rimmel valentines in newspapers, such as The Standard and The Morning Post which state that a detailed price list is available on application.  Perhaps the fashion for valentines was declining, perhaps the firm slightly lost heart after the fire, or perhaps the perfume business was more lucrative.   Or perhaps the public had come to associate Rimmel with valentines to such an extent that costly advertising was no longer necessary. The Standard  for 12 February 1887 has a paragraph within its news pages:  ‘The approach of St. Valentine’s-day is signalised, as usual, by the production of a number of graceful and ingenious valentines by Rimmel and Co., including expensive ones, and others which are at once tasteful and not too costly ‘.  Whatever the case, the lace paper, tinsel, gauze, artificial flowers, feathers, scraps, etc. of Rimmel’s elaborate valentines gave pleasure to very many people in the 19th century and continue to do so to those who see them today.

Comic Valentines: Topical Ephemera 2

Charles Dickens, in his article Cupid’s Manufactory  (All the Year Round, February 20  1864), writes of  a visit to the firm of “Cupid and Company”  (actually Joseph Mansell) and minutely describes the process of making an elaborate valentine.  He reveals that ‘the common kinds and the comic kinds are drawn out of doors [i.e. off-site] …. The subjects of some of the comic valentines are copied from drawings in Punch and his humorous contemporaries, but the great majority of them are original, and deal mainly with the passing follies and fashions of the day – crinoline, the Dundreary whiskers, the jacket coat, the spoon bonnet, and so forth.’

Comic valentine showing woman, whose eyes, nose, teeth, breasts, etc are annotated 'false' with corresponding verse
Comic valentine published by A. Park, London

‘Comic’ valentines are the dark and lesser-known side of the tradition of sending valentines.  Far from the lace paper, tinsel, scraps and feathers of the traditional elaborate valentine, they are simply and crudely printed on single or folded sheets, and coloured by stencil. While this is also true of cheaper valentines, it is the content which surprises. Both illustration and text were intended to insult the recipient who (before pre-paid postage was introduced in 1840) had to pay to receive them.

The London Review of Books in 1865 described them as ‘scandalous productions, vilely drawn, wretchedly engraved, and hastily dabbed over with staring colours …. an outlet for every kind of spiteful innuendo,  for every malicious sneer, for every envious scoff.’

John Johnson collected 20 boxes of valentines (of which 4 are comic) and several albums.  The valentines collected by Walter Harding are also kept with the John Johnson Collection, and these include 14 boxes of later American comic valentines, published by McLoughlin Bros. of New York. While in England the valentine itself diminished in popularity and quality at the beginning of the 20th century and the vogue for ‘comic’ valentines with it, some of the McLoughlin comic valentines were published as late as 1963.

The exhibition leaflet which accompanied 2010 display of valentines: The Season for Love: a collection of choice valentines from the John Johnson Collection is online, together with the poster,  and images of the exhibits with captions.