33 Nasty ‘Vinegar Valentines’ That Victorians Sent To Mock Each Other For Every Fault You Can Imagine

Published June 30, 2017
Updated September 2, 2020

These nasty Victorian "vinegar valentines" prove that romance has been dead for quite some time.

Man In A Bar
Mock Valentine Against Baldness
Annoying Woman
A Man Turned Down
33 Nasty ‘Vinegar Valentines’ That Victorians Sent To Mock Each Other For Every Fault You Can Imagine
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During the Victorian era, Valentine's Day wasn't just a time for expressing love. It was also a day when you could anonymously insult your enemies. In 19th century Britain and the U.S., that meant sending them ridiculously mean Valentine's Day cards, now known as vinegar valentines.

Take a look at the most insulting illustrated vinegar valentines that would make even your nastiest enemy blush.

How Valentine's Day Began Capitalizing On Romance

Donkey Loverboy Vinegar Valentine

Collectors WeeklyThe origin story of Valentine's Day allegedly dates back all the way to the 3rd century.

The origins of Valentine's Day date back to the 3rd century, but the first Valentine's Day didn't have much to do with love.

According to ancient sources, there were at least three different saints who went by the moniker 'Valentini' and had died on Feb. 14, now deemed as the official date of Valentine's Day by cultural society.

Two of them were executed during the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius Gothicus who ruled between 269 AD and 270 A.D. and was on a rampage to execute every single living Christian he could find.

The martyrdom of the last two St. Valentines — whose death accounts historians believe may have actually been about the same Valentini — was etched into history by the Belgian Bollandist monks in the book Acta Sanctorum or Lives of the Saints.

According to legend, St. Valentine was deemed the patron saint of love, marriages, and engagements because he performed Christian marriage rituals and delivered messages of affection between Christian lovers jailed by Gothicus.

But the commercialization of this day of romance didn't come until 1,000 years after St. Valentine's execution. British author Geoffrey Chaucer, best known for his work in The Canterbury Tales, has been credited as the first to plant the seeds of Valentine's Day into the minds of the wider English public.

Chaucer romanticized the month of February, when birds in the trees were mating and pairing up for the breeding season, through his Parlement of Foules. British nobility quickly took heed and used the month as an excuse to send romantic declarations to their potential partners.

Later, with the rise of industrialization, the day of love soon turned into a day of mass-produced endearments.

Even though there are no reliable statistics on the demographics of the customers who spend their money the most on Valentine's Day, card culture scholar Barry Shank claims that by the 20th century "nearly 80 percent of all greetings cards are bought and sent by women," which may explain why the designs of Valentine's Day cards — even to this day — are so gendered.

Enter, Vinegar Valentines

Vinegar Valentines Against Suffrage

Ken Florey Suffrage Collection/Gado/Getty ImagesA lot of vinegar valentines were imbued with the pervasive sexism of the times. Hence, suffragists, too, became common recipients of these cards.

Man In A Bar
Mock Valentine Against Baldness
Annoying Woman
A Man Turned Down
33 Nasty ‘Vinegar Valentines’ That Victorians Sent To Mock Each Other For Every Fault You Can Imagine
View Gallery

After seeing the success of the earliest mass-produced valentines, card sellers flipped the format on its head, creating the mean-spirited vinegar valentine. Vinegar valentines of the 19th century were simply called "mocking" or "comic" valentines and were easy to purchase at almost every convenience store.

They were meant to be sent anonymously, just like romantic valentines, and the majority of these vinegar valentine cards used the collective terms of "we," "us," and "everyone," suggesting they were meant to convey a message of public indictment rather than a personal vendetta.

There was a card for every sort of insult you could think of: greed, poor hygiene, rudeness, and even a lack of an attractive physique. Commonly sold for just a penny each, vinegar valentines were very popular among the working class. However, the upper class did not shy away from them either. In fact, they were just as eager, if not more so, to insult their acquaintances through these malicious cards.

To add more salt to the wound, at the time mail was still paid for upon delivery. This meant that not only could a person insult their enemy, but they could also make them pay for the honor of the insult, too.

Sometimes the postmaster confiscated these vulgar cards, deeming them unfit to be mailed. A thoughtful decision given that these vinegar valentines sometimes had terrible consequences.

In 1885, London's Pall Mall Gazette reported that a husband shot his estranged wife in the neck after he received a vinegar valentine from her. A few of these offensive cards were also reportedly the cause of multiple suicides.

During the 19th century, old maids and temptresses were most likely to find a comic valentine in their mailbox, though men were also targets of these public displays of hate, too. In 1866, the New York Times condemned the vinegar valentines as the paper claimed these nasty notes encouraged "a fearful tendency to the development of swearing in males of all ages."

Yet, these messages of disapproval remained quite popular. It's estimated that by the mid-19th century, vinegar valentines made up nearly half of Valentine's Day sales in the U.S.

Ultimately, the novelty — and perhaps mean spirit — of vinegar valentines wore off in the 1940s, although some stayed in circulation until the late 1970s. On the opposite end, the tradition of professing one's affectionate feelings on Valentine's Day has endured to this day, and shows no signs of going away.

Next, check out 23 fascinating Valentine's Day facts that you've surely never heard before. Then, allow these 100-year-old raunchy French postcards to show you what the early 20th century equivalent of Playboy looked like.

Laura Martisiute
Laura Martisiute is a freelance writer based in Tramore, Ireland. In her spare time, she likes to explore secret beaches, pet cats, and read.