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Vinegar Valentines

February 14, 2022
by the gentle author

On Valentine’s Day when readers are contemplating billets-doux, perhaps some might like to consider 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 were 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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3 Responses leave one →
  1. February 14, 2022

    I would also know a number of recipients of such Vinegar Valentines who would deserve them. But I’ll be gracious today and keep quiet….

    Love & Peace

  2. Amanda Bush permalink
    February 14, 2022

    I would be very upset if l received one of these. The ‘double faced’ cards, in particular, recall Thackeray’s illustrations to ‘The Rose and the Ring’.

  3. Bill permalink
    February 14, 2022

    Mean, mean, mean… golly gosh.

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