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Valentine's Day romance didn't come cheap in turn-of-the-century Baltimore

Original caption: Robert M. Roth's stationery store at 636 North Chester street in about 1900. Note the Valentines hanging on the right.
Original caption: Robert M. Roth's stationery store at 636 North Chester street in about 1900. Note the Valentines hanging on the right. (Baltimore Sun files)

Baltimoreans, it seems, were serious about their Valentine’s Day cards back in the 1890s — serious enough to spend as much as a third of their weekly salary on one.

In an “I Remember...” column that ran in The Sun of Feb. 12, 1956 (just two days before Valentine’s Day), August M. Roth recalled his father’s 19th-century stationer’s store, at 636 N. Chester St. in East Baltimore (across from the Northeast Market, just blocks from Johns Hopkins Hospital). The store, Roth recalled, did a flourishing business every Valentine’s season.

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“My father sold hundreds of Valentines,” Roth recalled, “and some of them were expensive.” That included one attention-grabber, made in Germany with a red plush heart and “real lace,” that sold for $5 — “a little fantastic when you realize that $15 was then considered a good weekly salary.”

His dad sold a dozen of them every year, the writer remembered.

An old-style Valentine, included with August M. Roth's 1956 reminiscence.
An old-style Valentine, included with August M. Roth's 1956 reminiscence. (Baltimore Sun files)

Naturally, not all the Valentine’s greetings Robert M. Roth sold out of his store came so dear. There were plenty of cards that sold for $2 or $3 (still a lot of money in those days); his dad would sell a gross of them every year. And for the average Joes or Josephines who wanted to proclaim their love without breaking the bank, there were “exquisite” penny postcards “covered with Cupid motifs and highly sentimental verses,” as well as comic Valentines that sold four for a penny.

And then there’s this, from the small-world department: Robert Roth bought those cards, his son wrote, from a “Baltimore street jobber” named Sam Fuld. That’s all August Roth writes, but could that “jobber” (city directories as far back as 1860 include a listing for “Fuld Samuel huckster”) have been some relation to William Fuld, turn-of-the-century marketer of the original Ouija board? If so, might future commerce between the Roths and the Fulds have included Ouija-themed Valentines?

The possibilities are certainly tantalizing.

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