Most of us associate the Victorian Era with primness and propriety, and assume that treacly sentiment would have been the only thing on offer in a greeting-card shop in those days. Not so. One example is this set of Valentine’s Day cards, printed circa 1884, featuring skillful caricatures of vegetable-people.
The cards were probably printed by Herman Rothe, of Covent Garden, London. (I found a nearly identical example online imprinted with the publisher’s name and a New Year’s greeting.) The set of six cards originally sold for $.40, a princely sum when you consider that in 1885, a woman could work a full year in a garment factory for $300. Comic Valentines, some including extremely cruel cartoons that no doubt sparked many a crying jag, were very popular at the end of the 19th century. The examples below are fairly benign, but I have to wonder what message was being sent in each case…
“The old, old tale, but ever new. Lovest thou me as I love you?” That’s the question the Cabbage Lady is asking. But why is she shaped like a cabbage? That’s the question I’m asking. I find her root-hair and root-arms particularly disconcerting.
A similar effect is achieved by making hair and arms out of an onion’s leaves. The “fringe” of roots at the Onion Lady’s hemline is inspired, though. Was the sender of this Valentine suggesting that his lady-love needed deodorant? We’ll never know.
This artist has done a masterful job of capturing the texture of a cantaloupe. Cantaloupe Chef’s arms, holding aloft a Valentine cake, are a pretty good approximation of melon vines, too. But what message is he sending? Is he telling some young lady that he “can’t elope”?
Comic Valentines often poked fun at men they deemed too dandified, and the umbrella and jaunty cocked hat on this tuberous fellow make him well qualified. This is one spud that has actual “eyes,” too. And arms made of sprouts.
There’s no mistaking this red-breasted dude as anything but a dandy. The monocle, cravat (of dried beet-greens) and walking stick give him away. The Valentine cookie he’s holding sports a decoration of forget-me-nots, symbolizing true love.
Carrot Man may be a dandy (with a stylish necktie fashioned from carrot greens), but he’s also a gentleman. He doffs his hat for the lady he addresses. “Mine is the love that no cloud can o’ercast. My heart and my hand all thy own to the last,” he professes. He sounds sincere, but I have to think he’d have better luck if he weren’t, you know, shaped like a carrot.