The Valentine Controversy (and a giveaway) with Sydney Jane Baily

author_en_crop2Did you know there was a controversy around the origins of Valentine’s Day cards in the US? No? Well, you’re in luck. Today, I’m thrilled to welcome a new friend and fellow historical author, Sydney Jane Baily, to my blog. She has the scoop.

Welcome Sydney. The blog is yours. Take it away.

Good morning on this 43rd day of the Georgian calendar—a day that will live in infamy, February 12, the day that Lady Jane Grey was beheaded nine days after taking the throne in 1554. Not marked in red on your calendar? No, perhaps not. We are so close to Valentine’s Day, let’s talk about a Valentine controversy instead, a dispute from a much more recent century over which no one lost their pretty heads, only their hearts: Who created the first American valentine?

However, first the niceties. How rude of me not to introduce myself! My name is Sydney Jane Baily, and I write Americana historical romance. As you can tell, I love to do research. I have a B.A. in English literature and in history, and an M.A. in English literature with a concentration in Romanticism. (That’s the Shelley, Keats, Byron-type of romanticism, not the bodice-ripper type.) I live in New England and have worked in publishing for a couple decades on the other side of the desk as an editor. I’ve recently fulfilled my writing dreams (October of 2012). My latest release is a boxed set of the first three books in my 1880s Sanborn-Malloy series, set in fictional Spring City, Colorado, as well as Boston, San Francisco, and a few points in between.

Thank you, Margery, for having me guest on your blog. Let’s pour some tea. Delicious! Yes, I’ll have a shortbread cookie. Mm. Now I’m ready to dive in to our Valentine controversy.

In the middle of the 19th century, two people started creating Valentine cards in America, and both, as it turns out, were in the historic state of Massachusetts: Esther A. Howland and Jotham W. Taft. Both claimed the first Valentines. It seems that young Jotham went on a buying trip to Europe and ended up in Germany. There, he saw and admired Valentine cards, which were already popular all over Europe. He brought back the necessary essentials to make cards in America: pieces of lace, tiny paper birds, small pressed flowers. Despite a disapproving Quaker mother, he started making Valentine cards in his home, and by 1844 had a factory in North Grafton, MA.

Esther Howland lived in Worcester, MA, and her father owned a stationery store, so she certainly had the supplies. However, she was still quite young and in Mount Holyoke college in 1847, though she may have already started making cards. One of her father’s associates gave her a European Valentine though we have no knowledge whether that gentleman became the love of her life. In any case, she copied the idea and sold cards in her father’s store. She, too, moved her operation into a factory, and rumor says she developed a $100,000 business.

Both her cards and Taft’s are in museums, but the weight of evidence goes to Mr. Taft as the earlier creator of the Valentine card in America. Huzzahs for Mr. Taft!

Boxed Set blurb:

sanbornmalloyboxedset2This boxed set contains Book One: An Improper Situation, Book Two: An Irresistible Temptation, and Book Three: An Inescapable Attraction in my Sanborn-Malloy Series of historical romances set in 1880s America. Currently, it’s available exclusively at Amazon ( and is in digital format only.

If you like Americana romance that takes you from the rugged terrain of Colorado to the civilized, old world city of Boston and the burgeoning city of San Francisco with its wild Barbary Coast, then you will enjoy these stories. Not exactly trains, planes, and automobiles, but steam trains, loyal steeds, and a variety of carriages transport my characters hither and yon as they battle evil men, encounter scheming, jealous women and packs of wolves, run for their lives from flying bullets and runaway carriages, and save each other with selfless disregard for their own safety. Through it all, the heroes and heroines of these stories love each other with a fiercely bold and enduring passion.

Excerpt from Book One of the Boxed Set: An Improper Situation

“I am a ninny,” Charlotte muttered to herself, turning around and heading past Boston’s oldest burial ground where the rich and famous enjoyed their eternal slumber. With her head down, feeling as though she wanted to turn off her brain for just a little while, she had barely gone five steps when she bumped into the very man himself.

“One thing I should tell you about living in the city,” Reed said, crossing his arms as he stopped to look at a flustered Charlotte, “is that you have to look where you’re going.”

She thought of his proposal. She thought of Helen. She thought of the unknown Celia. She touched her bonnet to make sure it was still in place, giving her a moment to stay the words that wanted to start bubbling out of her mouth like water from a fountain. Don’t babble, she warned herself.

“I apologize for treading on your foot, Reed.”

He didn’t smile. “I’ve sustained no injury. But I’m surprised to see you walking. You have a penchant for a certain ridiculous violet-colored vehicle, don’t you?”

Charlotte colored. So he had seen her get into Jason’s carriage. And it had irritated him as she’d suspected.

“I needed a ride. Mr. Farnsworth was kind enough to give me one.”

“I offered you a ride. Surely, you don’t think your aunt would find it any less improper for you to be driving around unchaperoned with Farnsworth than she would with me.”

“I guess that depends on the chaperone. And I didn’t particularly care for the one you’d chosen.”

Reed narrowed his eyes. “What are you talking about, Charlotte?”

“The ever-present Mrs. Belgrave.” She wished she didn’t sound so peevish whenever she mentioned the woman.

He shrugged. “You are talking in riddles. It is always back to Helen, no matter how many times I tell you that she means nothing to me. I have not had the same assurance from you regarding Farnsworth. I know he has kissed you.”

She blanched.

“Yes, that’s the exact look that told me so. Was he familiar with you yesterday in his carriage?”

Her mind went immediately to Jason’s hand across her ankles. Her eyes widened.

“Damnation, Charlotte,” Reed swore. “I am not a man to give up, but I am being sorely tested.”

He walked past her, not looking at her again. Not even saying goodbye. She watched his tall figure moving rigidly away and she felt physically sick. Disregarding the other people strolling the path, she called out to him.

“Reed Malloy, don’t you walk away from me.” Please.

He stopped in his tracks but didn’t turn around. Perhaps he was weighing his options, she thought. Was it worth it to turn and face her? Was she worth the trouble? He had offered her his hand in marriage. She could certainly take the first step. She took one, then another.

“Reed,” she said again, more steadily.

He turned, but his face was still forbidding. Charlotte walked closer until she was only an arm’s length away, and then she looked up into his blue gaze and struggled to find the right words—words that would erase the distant look from his dear face and replace it with the loving one she was used to.

Thanks for stopping by. Please leave a comment and tell me your favorite period of history to win a digital copy of my first book, An Improper Situation.

Only one? For me, it would be a tie between the Old West and the Civil War South.

The Sanborn-Malloy Historical Romance box set is available in print and digital on Amazon

Learn more about Sydney and her books on her website, on Facebook and on Twitter.

Can’t wait to read this series, Sydney. Thanks so much for visiting, and please come back soon.

[wysija_form id=”1″]


The Valentine Controversy (and a giveaway) with Sydney Jane Baily — 14 Comments

  1. And, imagine, neither of them had the last name “Hallmark” or “American-Greetings”! Thank you for the Valentine’s tidbit.

  2. I didn’t know about this controversy either. Thanks for sharing this fascinating bit of research! It’s amazing those of us with history and English degrees ever stop researching and find time to write. So much to learn and there is always more to discover. Thank you for a wonderful Valentine’s Day lesson, Sydney. 🙂

  3. Sounds like Mr. Taft wins, at least as far as producing the first commercially made Valentine cards. Interesting bit of history, and later than I might have expected. Good post.

  4. Oh dear, poor Reed. G. D., I think I may have provided the wrong excerpt. He is a little arrogant, being a well-bred Bostonian lawyer, but he’s not a pompous ass by any stretch. He’s really a dear man who is head over heels for Charlotte though she tries his patience. I’m rushing to his defense because I am in love with him myself, never mind that he’s fictional.

    Sydney Jane Baily recently posted…Sanborn-Malloy Series Boxed Set, Books 1, 2, & 3My Profile

  5. Thanks for the interesting bit of history. Will you return to tell us who invented the Christmas card? Are you planning any more books in the Sanborn-Malloy series?

  6. Linda, would love to return and discuss the Christmas card. Thanks for the idea. And yes, the series has three books currently, and I recently completed a novella-length prequel (not yet published). Also, there will be a book 4 because one more character from the Malloy family gave me a talking to: “Where’s my story?” Rose demanded in a bit of a huff. She has a good story, too, so I have to get it out of my head. That will be the last one for the series. Meanwhile, a troubled male character from an earlier time period has started pulling at my heartstrings and his story has to come out, too.
    Best wishes!
    Sydney Jane Baily recently posted…Sanborn-Malloy Series Boxed Set, Books 1, 2, & 3My Profile

  7. Wonderful post, Syndey!

    I wasn’t aware of the Valentine controversy. Very interesting. Thank you for sharing. Very best of luck with your boxed set, and Happy Valentine’s Day to you!