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February 14th, 2013

Roses, Tokens of Love

In the Victorian secret code called the language of flowers, roses were especially meaningful. Each color of rose sent a specific message to the recipient, and many a fond hope was dashed when a gentleman presented a lady with a yellow rose (denoting friendship) instead of the expected red (true love) or light pink (desire).

Victorian and Edwardian greeting cards often featured roses, and several women illustrators of the period became known for the exquisite detail they achieved in painting the flowers.

Below are some of my rose-themed Valentine’s Day greeting postcards dating from about 1905 to 1915. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Dark pink, for gratitude

Dark pink, for gratitude

Light pink, for desire or passion

Light pink, for desire or passion

Coral, for desire or passion

Coral, for desire or passion

Red, for true love

Red, for true love

“Read love’s tender message, hidden in the rose.”

“Read love’s tender message, hidden in the rose.”

Cupid bears a message of love.

Cupid bears a message of love.

Red and yellow roses together indicated joy or happiness.

Red and yellow roses together indicated joy or happiness.

Hearts and flowers

Hearts and flowers

“Love is lurking in your pathway.”

“Love is lurking in your pathway.”

A rose topiary by illustrator Ethel Parkinson.

A rose topiary by illustrator Ethel Parkinson

A rose among the thorns

A rose among the thorns

A rose tussie-mussie

A rose tussie-mussie

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February 14th, 2011

Victorian Veggie Valentines

nancy-80x80Most 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…

Cabbage Lady

Cabbage Lady

“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.

Onion Lady

Onion Lady

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.

Cantaloupe Chef

Cantaloupe Chef

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”?

Yam Dandy

Yam Dandy

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.

Beet-nik

Beet-nik

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

Carrot Man

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.

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