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Vinegar Valentines: The Dark Side of Valentines Day

Updated: Mar 13, 2023

Photo Source: Commons Wikimedia

Photo Source: Nicubunu Photo Blog

The article is not about food but a holiday associated with food that is romantic and sentimental. Valentines Day conjures images of chocolates, wine, dining out, flowers, lace, and romance. In the Victorian era vinegar valentines were designed to discourage unwanted suitors, enemies, and used to ridicule aspects about people you did not like.

You might send a vinegar valentine to an unwanted suitor, enemies, competitors, or someone that rejected you. Some people sent them to co-workers and people they disliked. These valentines were insulting, sarcastic, and often not funny.

During Victorian times Valentines Day became popular and postal workers were given extra money for meals to keep up with the demand for delivery. It is estimated that half of these Valentines delivered were vinegar valentines.

These valentines made fun of women fighting for the vote, drunks, vanity, being cheap, the way women and men dressed, and person's characteristics and habits. They served as a way to control and shame people for beliefs, occupations, and personality traits.

Photo Source: Bizzaro Bazar

Popularity of Vinegar Valentines in the 1830's and 1840s

These vinegar valentines came in 1830's and 1840 when Valentines Day became a popular holiday and inexpensive paper was used for printing. Printing production became more sophisticated, and these valentines were inexpensive to make.

Vinegar valentines ranged from comic to cruel. They covered all stereotypes egoistical men and women, annoying salespeople, women suffrage, occupations, doctors, artists, and anyone you might dislike for any reason. Both men and women sent these valentine cards.

The companies that made and distributed these cards in the United States and the UK were Johnathan King of London and Esther Howland of Worcester, MA. These companies sold vinegar valentines because it was a new market and financially profitable. They could be made on inexpensive paper and sealed with wax.

At times vinegar valentines caused fighting, court cases, suicide attempts, and murder. In 1885 a man shot his estranged wife after she sent him one as reported in the Pall Mall Gazette in 1885. They were few left because often recipients burned or ripped them up and threw them away. Many vinegar valentines left found in printer collections and stationary stores.

Vinegar valentine cards could be mailed anonymously and sent cash on demand. This means the recipient had to pay 1 cent to read it. Many sent an insulting card to discourage an unwanted suitor or to someone they disliked. They were made for both men and women.

Photo Source: Wikipedia and Bizzaro Bazar

Vinegar Valentines Become Unpopular Due to Their Negative Effects

Often vinegar valentines were confiscated by the Post Office as too ugly or obnoxious to send. Many of these valentines were drawn by Charles Howard, an artist who would draw a caricature of a man or woman in full color with a verse at the bottom. Below is a valentine someone may have sent to him if they knew he drew the vinegar valentines.

Photo Source: Bizzaro Bazar

They were sent to mock someone's way of dressing, physical characteristics, weight, or misfortune. In 1847 a woman in New York overdosed after receiving a nasty valentine from someone she believed to be a suitor. She took an overdose of laudanum. The valentines provided a way to bully and shame others from a distance.

Teachers and parents tried to avoid these types of valentines with children as they promoted cruelty and ridicule. Over 25,000 valentines were held in a Chicago post office as unfit to send one year. Vinegar valentines were still sold in the 1970's but eventually became unpopular due to the negative reactions of consumers. Some are still sold online today but are hard to find because they have lost their popularity.


The Rude, Cruel Vinegar Valentines of the Victorian Era, by Natalie Zarielli, Atlas Obscura, February 2017

Victorian Era Vinegar Valentines Could be Mean and Hostile, by Crystal Ponte, History Channel, February 2020

When Valentines Were Vicious: A Brief History of Vinegar Valentines by Via Kensington February 12, 2021

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