Tradition of sending Valentines is centuries old

  • Wednesday, February 11, 2009 11:02pm
  • Life

The custom of sending valentine cards is not new. It goes back to the 17th century. The English author Samuel Pepys mentioned valentines in his diary on Valentine’s Day in 1667.

In those days, a valentine was homemade. By the 1750s, the handwritten note could be put on gilt-edged paper found in markets. A few commercial valentines could be found between about 1800 to the late 1830s, but it was England’s 1839 Penny Postage Act that made store-bought valentines popular.

Each card could have a matching envelope and, in the United States in the 1840s, needed 5 cents postage. Elaborate, often hand-assembled cards were sold, and all sorts of unusual 3-D and mechanical cards were also made.

But it was at the beginning of the 20th century that valentine postcards became so popular they were preferred to the earlier lacy styles. Chromolithographed cards were made by the millions in Germany and England. Raphael Tuck &Sons of England and, later, New York made many of them.

Cards were sent to friends, relatives and, of course, sweethearts. “Vinegars” or “penny dreadfuls” were sent to disagreeable people who seemed to deserve them.

Collectors today want all types of old cards. Save the most interesting new ones, too. Cards with cartoon figures, trains, cars, planes, phones or any modern item that in the future will help date the cards will be valuable. So will cards related to a political event or a war. But best will always be a card that expresses the valentine theme of love.

Q: I have a mahogany secretary labeled “Maddox Colonial Reproduction.” It’s about 6 1/2 feet high with two glass doors on top and four large drawers at the bottom. Inside the slant-front desk there are more than 15 small cubbyholes. When was it made and how much is it worth?

A: Your secretary was made by the Maddox Table Co. of Jamestown, N.Y. Because the firm was in business for nearly a century, from 1898 into the 1980s, it’s impossible to tell you when your secretary was made. However, we have seen Maddox secretaries sell for $600 to $900.

Q: I have several old silver serving pieces marked “Homan Plate on Nickel Silver, W.M. Mounts, Made in U.S.” They are in desperate need of cleaning, but regular silver polish has not made a bit of difference. What else can I try?

A: Homan Manufacturing Co. or one of its predecessors made your serving pieces. The company was established as Homan &Co. in 1847. Its name changed to Homan Silver Plate Co. in the 1890s and then to Homan Manufacturing Co. in the early 1900s. It closed in 1941. “W.M. Mounts” is not a maker’s name.

It stands for “white metal mounts.” Your pieces are silver plate, not sterling. Nothing will make the pieces look clean because the plating has worn off. The only thing that will help is to have a professional replate your pieces. You can find silver repair services in your local telephone company’s Yellow Pages or on our Web site, Click on “Free Resources,” then on “Antiques &Collectibles Directory.”

Q: Can you give me information and an approximate price for a Ceresota Salesman Sampler case? At least that’s what I think it is. It’s a small brown briefcase, 10 1/2 inches long by 7 inches wide by 3 inches deep. On each side of the case there’s a small Ceresota label picturing a boy sitting on a stool slicing bread. Inside are 23 numbered glass vials filled with different grains and closed with metal caps (one vial is missing). I even have the original pamphlet from the case. It’s titled “From Wheat to Flour” and explains the process of wheat milling and how each type of wheat in the vials is milled. It was published by the Northwestern Consolidated Milling Co. of Minneapolis.

A: When Northwestern Consolidated Milling Co. opened in Minneapolis in 1891, it introduced the Ceresota brand of flour. The brand’s early logo of a boy slicing bread became well-known across much of the country. Northwestern closed in 1953, but the Ceresota brand lives on. Today it’s owned by The Uhlmann Co./American Home Foods of Kansas City, Mo. Your salesman sample box, even with one missing vial, would be of interest to collectors of old advertising. Depending on the condition of the case, it could sell for $100 or more.

Q: I purchased a small Kutani bowl many years ago. It’s marked “Kutani” and “Japan.” What can you tell me about this maker?

A: Kutani is an area in Japan, not the name of a maker. The name means “Nine Valleys.” Several potters made porcelain marked “Kutani” after the mid-1600s. Pieces found today were usually made in the 19th century or later. Collectors often use the term “Kutani” to refer to just the later, colorful pieces decorated with red, gold and black pictures of warriors, animals and birds. Porcelain marked “Kutani” is still being made. The word “Japan” in the mark on your bowl suggests that it was made after 1920.

Write to Kovels, The Herald, King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.

&Copy; 2009 by Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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Daniella Beccaria / for The Herald

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