Valentine’s Day Cards from NYAM

by the NYAM Library Team

On February 14th we observe Valentine’s Day!

Our previous blog posts on this commercial holiday highlighted both cards created for Valentine’s Day as well as trading cards from our collection. At the close of the 19th century, improvements in printing allowed for cheaper goods and paper cards for friends, lovers, and families to send written sentiments.

These early cards varied from caricatures of their subjects and beautifully drawn miniscule script, to what we now think of as Valentine’s Day cards – humorous or sentimental acknowledgements.

To celebrate this year, we have created six of our own Valentine’s Day cards featuring images from our collections. One is for the celebration of the popular Galentine’s Day, a celebration of friendship.

Feel free to print out and share with your loved ones!

From Sei sparsam!… by Anny Wothe (Leipzig, 1900.)
From Historiæ animalium... by Conrad Gessner (Zurich, 1551.)
From Illustrated Natural History of the Three Kingdoms…edited and compiled by A. B. Strong (New York, 1853.)
From Illustrated Natural History of the Three Kingdoms…edited and compiled by A. B. Strong (New York, 1853.)
From De motu cordis et aneurysmatibus… by Giovanni Maria Lancisi (Neapoli, 1738.)
From Ryzon Baking Book compiled and edited by Marion Harris Neil (New York, 1917.)

Slings and Arrows

By Arlene Shaner, Acting Curator and Reference Librarian for Historical Collections

Commercially printed greetings for Valentine’s Day appeared in the United States in the first part of the 19th century. Although most printed valentines expressed sentimental attachment, a tradition of sending comic cards developed, especially in Great Britain and the United States. Postcards became popular early in the 20th century and offered an inexpensive way to send these greetings.

Our doctor and druggist valentine postcards. Click to enlarge.

Our doctor and druggist valentine postcards. Click to enlarge.

At first glance, these postcards with their skewering verses do not seem to be valentines at all; a look at the reverse of the card, however, demonstrates that they were meant as such. As Bill Helfand, a notable collector of medical and pharmaceutical ephemera, notes in his article “Pharmaceutical and Medical Valentines,” many of these valentines were issued in sets, and our two caricature valentines were part of a set.

The reverse side of a valentine.

The reverse side of a valentine. Click to enlarge.

Our doctor and druggist cards arrived last winter as a gift from a donor with a longstanding interest in ephemera, along with a reprint of Bill Helfand’s article, which contains a checklist on which both of these valentines appear. The short verses on the two cards malign the doctor and the druggist as potentially criminal dispensers of drugs and alcohol, rather than as professionals with the health of their patients in mind. “There is little in any of these greetings to suggest the professional role that the pharmacist or the physician played in the community at the time,” Helfand reminds us, “But, of course, that was not the intent at all.”


William H. Helfand, “Pharmaceutical and Medical Valentines,” Pharmacy in History 20:3 (1978), pp. 101-110.

Valentines for a Valentine

By Arlene Shaner, Acting Curator and Reference Librarian for Historical Collections

In honor of Valentine’s Day, these two “valentines” seemed appropriate items from our collection to share this week.

Micrography valentine for Valentine Mott

Valentine 1. Click to enlarge and marvel at the minuscule script.

Dr. Valentine Mott

Dr. Valentine Mott

Pioneer American surgeon Dr. Valentine Mott (1785-1865), NYAM’s third president (1849), was the recipient of these two examples of micrography, created by David Davidson. Mott was born in Glen Cove, Long Island, and attended medical school at Columbia College. As a student, he also trained under a cousin, Dr. Valentine Seaman. After receiving his degree in 1806, he sailed to Europe, where he studied with Sir Astley Cooper in London, and then spent time in Edinburgh. When he returned to New York in 1809, he began to lecture in operative surgery at Columbia. By 1811, he had been appointed a professor of surgery, and in 1818 he was the first doctor to successfully perform surgery on the innominate artery, two inches away from the heart, to repair an aneurysm in the right subclavian artery. His patient survived for 26 days before succumbing to a secondary infection. For the rest of his career, he divided his time between the United States and Europe, serving on the medical faculties of the Rutgers Medical College, Columbia’s College of Physicians & Surgeons, the University Medical College and the Medical Department of New York University, and performing an extraordinary number of surgical procedures.

Micrography valentine for Valentine Mott

Valentine 2.

Aside from the charming but obvious play on Mott’s name and the tenuous connection to his surgery on the innominate artery, there is nothing on these “valentines” that explains why Davidson chose to make them. Davidson remains a bit of a mystery himself. Born in Russian Poland in 1812, he immigrated first to England and then to the United States, where he settled on the Lower East Side for awhile before moving on to Baltimore and finally to Boston. Davidson describes himself as an “Artist in Penmanship” at the Stuyvesant Institute on one of the valentines, and he was the creator of a number of different micrographic specimens, including portraits of famous figures and renderings of important buildings. Micrography, the art of using miniscule script to create abstract shapes or representations of objects, is a Jewish art form that dates back to the tenth century. In micrography, the writing itself is so small that the words themselves are not apparent except under close examination. Davidson is credited as one of the first practitioners of micrography in the United States. Various sacred writings were used in the execution of micrography, and for some of his creations Davidson used Hebrew texts, but for these two valentines he used English versions of the Book of Jonah and of a number of Psalms.