“Less Sentimental” New Yorkers Say No Thanks to Valentine’s Day. In 1871.


New Yorkers are over Valentine’s Day. They’re over Valentine’s parties and “anti-Valentine’s” parties and buying crumbly, last-minute, guilt-trip chocolate from Duane Reade on their way home and mostly-frozen flowers from the bodega. They’re too sophisticated for that dreck.

Wait, sorry, that was 143 years ago. This year, people are getting married in Times Square with the help of Snuggle the fabric softener bear and atop the Empire State Building with sponsorship from some corporate flower conglomerate. It was your better taste-having great great great grandmother who declared that she was absolutely done with this tacky, saccharine holiday (although she did enjoy sending joke cards “out of spite”).

So reported the New York Times in their February 14, 1871 edition, noting that the number of valentine cards sold and sent in the city had experienced “a considerable falling off.”

The Times decided that the drop in Valentine card circulation here compared with the ‘burbs was probably due to New Yorkers’ innate sophistication. Also, their natural and extreme forwardness in the romance department:

In brief, our country cousins, judged by St. Valentine’s Day, still retain that primitive sentimentality which prompts this bashful mode of confessing even vaguely to the existence of the tender passion, while the more matter-of-fact denizen of the Metropolis either has more nerve to openly declare his or her love, or, with the spirit of cosmopolitanism,considers the time-honored custom of sending valentines as befitting only past and more puerile ages and peoples.

The Grey Lady was also horrified at the popularity of “comic” valentines, “hideous caricatures which are to be seen in every stationer’s window.” The comics consisted of “a few black lines and a daub of color,” along with “a few doggerel rhymes.”

“They pervert the idea of the valentine,” the Times sniffed, “for instead of being love missives, or tending to afford gratification, they are too often sent out of spite, to carry anger or annoyance to the receiver. Of these, there have been sold nearly 12,000,000, and strange to say they are mostly purchased by women.”

Oh my God. Someecards were invented in 1871.

The intrepid 1871 reporters of the Times also appear to have been rifling through people’s mail to support their theory that Valentine’s Day was so over, writing, “Contrary to prevailing opinion that the quantity of mail matter is doubled on Valentine’s Day, the mails leaving this City last night showed no particular increase. Here and there among the letters one could be detected as containing a valentine, but five hundred would cover the entire number of envelopes which, to outward appearances, contained the missive of love or spite.”

What a great time to be a reporter, and a New Yorker. Join us as we spend the rest of the day dodging wedding-mad fabric softener bears and romance-themed Slate thinkpieces.

The full February 14, 1871 article from the Times is on the following page.

Valentine’s Day NY Times 1871