P.S., I (Heart) You
Valentines send the message in different styles through the ages
GREETINGS on Valentine's Day cards might have changed over the years, but sentiments remain the same. The acronym S.W.A.V.S.K. -- Sealed with a Very Sweet Kiss -- was found on the envelope of a valentine sent in the early 1900s. It can be found in e-mails and chat-room messages today.
O. Henry Mace, in "Collector's Guide to Victoriana," said the exchanging of valentines dates to Roman times, when they were used as a lottery to find mates. Unmarried church members later adopted the traditions of Feb. 14 by drawing anonymous notes of affection from a bowl, then trying to determine the sender.
The holiday continues to revolve around relationships, mostly for lovers, but in the past, it seems, it was just as important to remember teachers and friends.
Wendi Woodstrup, a librarian who lives on the North Shore, has a collection of flowery German valentines she gained as a family heirloom.
An older greeting, intended for a significant other, that was found on a card in Woodstrup's collection goes like this:
Think of the flowers and their joys
And the happiness they impart
If you'd be my valentine
You would be the flower of my heart
WENDI Woodstrup suspected that her great-aunt's collection of valentines might be worth a few bucks, but it turns out the sentimental bits of paper, lace and poetry have a value of thousands of dollars.
Woodstrup obtained the collection of well-preserved German valentines dating to 1898 upon her mother's death.
"We were never allowed to touch them," she said. "My mother displayed some of the special cards in a glass case on Valentine's Day. That is the only way we saw them."
Their value shocked Woodstrup when she took a small box to be appraised when the PBS show "Antiques Roadshow" taped in Honolulu in August. Her small box was valued at $6,000 to $8,000.
Simple postcards were valued at 50 cents to $1. Cards with movable parts were worth between $5 and $10; those with accordion parts, $200 to $300; those with wheels, $500.
Woodstrup has a mixture of all those types in more boxes, making her collection worth much more than the $8,000.
She's considering selling the collection to a museum or an establishment that can provide proper care for her family heirlooms. As a librarian at Mililani Public Library, she is familiar with different types of paper and worries about the moisture in the island climate.
The appraiser instructed her to wrap each card -- there are hundreds -- in tissue and store them in acid-free boxes.
"They are museum-quality pieces. You can't really share them with people or allow them to be touched. I want to do the right thing and take care of them."
Most of the collection belonged to her great-aunts -- one was a schoolteacher in Illinois; the other, a piano teacher. Both were of German descent.
Many of the cards came from their students; some were handmade. One valentine reads:
To tell the truth in simple words
And put the real facts neatly
I'd have to sum it up like this
I've lost my heart completely
"The poetry on many of them is precious. We don't really use words like 'beloved' anymore," said Woodstrup. Both aunts had saved greetings from their sweethearts, with "Sealed with a Kiss" on the envelopes.
She shared one of her favorite photos of her great-aunts and great-grandmother sitting alongside a creek after picking bunches of violets.
"Growing up, my aunts seemed so strange to me. They were so Victorian and seemed so old because of their ways and styles -- both how they dressed and talked," she said.
"When I look at the valentines ... it makes me understand them better," she said.
Woodstrup can't name a favorite and says she enjoys the details of each one and reading the various greetings.
She says she continues to send valentines to the older folks in her life.
"Digital images and e-mail have us sending less cards," she said, but she prefers the tangible item. "Valentine's Day is pretty much about relationships. ... It is all about going for the positive."
The old envelopes within the collection included names of towns and states, with no ZIP codes, reflecting the simplicity of the time.
Woodstrup added, "Back along, postcards were in abundance. People must not have minded the postman reading their expressions of love."