vinegar valentines: of broken hearts and vicious mail

6 Feb

Valentine’s Day is a bit of a bastard. Either through choice or design, it has always been a bit of a monster for me – a high point was being admitted to hospital for anaphylaxis after eating too many packets of Love Hearts – a low was screaming at an ex-boyfriend in a car park after he’d had the gall to buy me a diamond ring and flowers (“I’ve got a fucking pollen allergy and I hate De Beers!” my only defence is that I was seventeen) so it is with some delight that I have recently learnt about Vinegar Valentines.

These delightful missives are effectively insult cards. They first started circulating in the US back in the 1840s, and seemed to peak in popularity at the start of the 20th century.

The basic premise is this: hate mail. Rather than send an adoring message to an admirer, why not anonymously send a mean caricature with some spiteful verse? To add insult to injury, the earlier Vinegar Valentines had postage paid on receipt, so the insulted also had to cough up the cost.

Some of them are deliciously cruel, and they appear to have no boundaries: appearance, character, profession, education, demeanour, fragrance – all are subject for these nasty little notes.

I’m sure I’ve warranted enough of these in my time – perhaps it’s a tradition that is worthy of revival? I’ll be waiting for the postman, eagerly.


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