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Some Vinegar Valentines

February 13, 2017
by the gentle author

As Valentine’s Day approaches and readers are preparing their billets-doux, perhaps some might like to contemplate reviving the Victorian culture of Vinegar Valentines?

When I met inveterate collector Mike Henbrey in the final months of his life, he showed me his cherished collection of these harshly-comic nineteenth century Valentines which he had been collecting for more than twenty years.

Mischievously exploiting the expectation of recipients on St Valentine’s Day, these grotesque insults couched in humorous style were sent to enemies and unwanted suitors, and to bad tradesmen by workmates and dissatisfied customers. Unsurprisingly, very few have survived which makes them incredibly rare and renders Mike’s collection all the more astonishing.

“I like them because they are nasty,” Mike admitted to me with a wicked grin, relishing the vigorous often surreal imagination manifest in this strange sub-culture of the Victorian age. Mike Henbrey’s collection of Vinegar Valentines has now been acquired by Bishopsgate Institute, where they are preserved in the archive as a tribute to one man’s unlikely obsession.

Images courtesy Mike Henbrey Collection at Bishopsgate Institute

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4 Responses leave one →
  1. February 13, 2017


  2. Delia Folkard permalink
    February 13, 2017

    They really are vile and spiteful. Just as well that I don’t usually get sent any Valentine cards so there’s no chance of receiving one similar to them. Hopefully, there won’t be a revival!! Really must make a trip to the Institute as it sound very interesting.

  3. Stephen Barker permalink
    February 14, 2017

    I own a couple of vinegar valentines from the Edwardian era, they are long narrow strips with the figure being mocked and a humorous verse all printed in black and red so would have been quite cheap.
    For anyone interested the website of Wayside Collectables who specialize in ephemera has some vinegar valentines and some very nice paper lace valentines from the Victorian era.

  4. Stephen Barker permalink
    February 14, 2017

    Today on Valentine’s Day the BBC on its homepage has some more vinegar valentines from a collection in Brighton and a link to a research paper on the topic.

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