In late 19th and early 20th century Baltimore, there was a worse fate than not receiving a Valentine’s Day card from your beloved. You might find in the mail a nasty note mocking your appearance or character. While sincere lovers were spending small fortunes on heartfelt cards conveying love and romance, 1-cent “comic posters” or “comic valentines” attached to cardboard were “a decided hit” and “going like hot cakes,” The Baltimore Sun reported in 1902.
Featuring poems with vulgar drawings, so-called “vinegar valentines” were sent anonymously to men and women alike. Cards addressed to women might lampoon their appearance, or suggest they’d gone “too Long Between Baths.” A collection of vinegar valentines at the Maryland Historical Society includes one depicting a shabbily dressed man with a red nose and lips. The caption: “What a state you have reached, wretched Victim of Whiskey!... The end is soon coming, a drunkards’ vile grave.”
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In 1967, a Sun reader and collector of historic comic valentines named Henry Granofsky wrote, “the original comics were anything but funny. They were really rough and in straightforward language termed the recipient scandal monger, grafter, a member of the Black Hand, or crudely asked a new father if the child was really his.”
Mercifully, this fad eventually died out. The greetings were considered old-fashioned by 1949, according to a Sun article.
Baltimore Sun librarian Paul McCardell contributed to this article