We Love Vintage Valentines

They're a classic way to say "I love you!"

What started as the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia that celebrated fertility has now evolved into a holiday during which one billion cards are sent, according to the Greeting Card Association. But wooing loved ones with cards brimming in cute verses is not just a 21st century tradition—or a 20th century tradition, either. Since the Middle Ages, Europeans have exchanged handmade Valentines, eventually turning over the duty of making cards to factories in the 1800s.

You can still collect these relics of romance today! Nothing is more sentimental than a literal piece of history. The often elaborate designs on these cards also serve perfectly as vintage decor.

History of Valentines Cards

Although written verses of ardor had been exchanged in Europe for awhile, Valentines cards really took off in popularity when industrialization hit Britain in the early 1800s, allowing for the mass production of cards. Dwindling postal rates in the 1840s due to the Uniform Penny Post only kindled the printed Valentine’s Day greeting fervor.

Valentines Day ephemera
These factory-produced Valentines started off modestly—they featured black and white pictures, which factory workers painted. But when Queen Victoria took reign and the Victorian era ensued in the mid-1800s, Valentine’s Day received a new surge in popularity and subsequently more ornate cards.

Artwork on these greetings commonly featured flowers, love knots, Cupid, real lace, paper lacework, embossing, ribbons and more: all these materials were referred to as “Victorian scrap.” The traditional folded greeting card that most people exchange today did not take form until offset lithography became a cheaper method for producing Valentines in the late 19th century. But not all cards were a standard rectangular shape: through die-cut techniques, cards were made into shapes like crescent moons and hearts, and sometimes even had characters and shapes pop out.

The Valentine’s Day greetings craze transferred over to the United States in 1849 when Esther Howland, an American printer and artist, published and sold Valentines. As one of the first to commercialize Valentines in the US, she became known as “Mother of the Valentine.” Renown company Hallmark Cards sold its first Valentines in 1913—American Valentine’s cards sometimes boasted more intimate artwork than on European card fronts.

Valentines Day collectibles and ephemera


Where to Find and Collect Valentines

A quick eBay search for “vintage Valentine’s Day cards” leaves you with an almost limitless offering of old greetings to choose from—with most of them ringing below $10! The same search on Etsy also produces an impressive amount of vintage gems. Ruby Lane, an online marketplace for antiques and vintage finds, is another great source for collectible Valentine’s Day cards.

If you are willing to hunt for an especially old greeting card, attend antique shows and auctions!



Collecting Staffordshire Figurines 101

Learn how to collect these charming figures with these 5 expert tips.

Dogs are the most readily available of the Staffordshire animal figurines collected. Regional breeds like greyhounds and pugs are often depicted; however, the King Charles Spaniels became most popular, because of Queen Victoria’s famous pet spaniel, Dash.

Even though the age of these tiny treasures make them precious collectibles (as far as pre-Victorian through Victorian collectibles go) Staffordshire figurines are readily available and often times very affordable.

These delightful figurines were made inexpensively and sold at reasonable prices. They were present in many homes across England and eventually collected in America through the 20th century.

The subject matter was quite varied from domestic animals to exotic animals, hunters to royalty to politicians as well as structures and buildings.
This accessibility and wide-spread availability makes collecting Staffordshire a very appealing pastime.

The range of subject matter and colors also allows for effortless integration into many of today’s homes. Decorating with Staffordshire figures is a wonderful way to connect the past with the present by paying homage to a simple art form and appreciating a beautiful and elegant period in history.

1. Of the figurines, famous people and exotic animals tend to be the most valuable.
Hunting figures and dogs were the most commonly produced so their value tends to be a bit lower. As for famous figures and politicians, the exception to the value rules of thumb are the famous figures that were produced in large volumes such as Queen Victoria. The value is not as great, merely because of the quantity produced.

3. Unlike many antiques, the condition of Staffordshire figures is not as important.
Due to manufacturing flaws and paint imperfections from unskilled artisans, conditions can vary greatly from piece to piece. It adds to the character and the folk art appeal. Even minor cracks and chips due to age tend to affect the value very little, if at all.

4. Beware of reproductions.
Reproductions of Staffordshire have been produced through the 20th century and some are still being created today. Look to items made prior to World War 11 for the greatest value and quality.

One way to check the age is to look for worn gilding. Newer pieces have bright brassy or yellow gilded details while the antique counterparts tend to have a dull, worn look to the trim. Be sure to check the bottom as well. Most old Staffordshire lacks backstamps or manufacturing marks. Newer reproductions are usually marked. Check that marks have not been scraped or sanded off.

5. Avoid forgeries. Detecting fakes can pose a challenge. 

Some manufactures go so far as to rub dirt into the finish or glaze. They are trying to create the illusion of age. Check the colors and details, as they were originally painted by unskilled laborers. If a figurine looks too perfect or the details appear to be transferred on instead of hand painted, it’s probably a fake. Another way to check is the weight. The older figures are typically heavier than the newer ones.

For more on Melinda Graham, visit surroundingsbymelinda.com. 


Message in a Bouquet

Instead of a text, give your loved one a bouquet of flowers to show them you care. Here are the meanings behind popular flowers to help you form your bouquets.

Flowers aren’t just beautiful—they can also send a message. “In the Victorian era and even long before that, flowers served as beautiful messengers that whispered what often could not be spoken aloud,” write Leigh Okies and Lisa McGuinness in their new book, Meaningful Bouquets. From anticipation and affection to forgiveness and friendship, a bouquet of flowers can help you speak to a family member or friend in a new way. “[In the Victorian era], they were the equivalent of clandestine text messages or notes of encouragement,” the authors write. Here are a few flower meanings and how you can combine them to create a beautiful message.


Use traditional Victorian flower meanings to convey a message.


“When you want to commemorate an occasion or a special person, this combination of flowers comes together for a memorable impression,” the authors write. The bouquet doesn’t have to be large—combine the flowers in a vintage coffee or food can for extra effect. Whether the occasion is a birthday, holiday or anniversary, here are some of the flowers you can include and the meaning they convey:

  • Pink carnations: I will never forget you
  • Rosemary: Remembrance
  • Oak leaf hydrangea: Calm
  • Forget me nots: Remembrance
  • Bluebell: Constancy


Use bouquets of flowers to convey meaning.

Crush on You

This bouquet can go to a significant other or another person you admire, such as your mom on Mother’s Day. “This arrangement is a lovely way to express your feelings for someone you find fascinating,” the authors write. “Give it to your crush or a friend to let them know they’ve been on your mind.” Include a “Thinking of You” card to tell them the meanings of the flowers in the bouquet:

  • Orange roses and rosebuds: Fascination
  • Maidenhair fern: Secrecy
  • Rose hips: Love
  • Daffodil: Admiration
  • Honeysuckle: Devotion


Use bouquets of flowers to convey meaning.


Sometimes it’s difficult to know how to give comfort to a friend or loved one when they’re having a hard time. A bouquet of flowers with their Victorian meanings is a steady reassurance of love and support. “Giving comfort and sympathy to others requires sensitivity and quiet reassurances,” the authors write. Here are a few flowers you can use to support others:

  • Scarlet geranium leaves: Sympathy
  • Dahlias: Dignity
  • Glove amaranth: Unchangeable
  • Peony: Bravery
  • Goldenrod: Encouragement

For more ideas, including bouquets for celebration, luck and passionate love, get a copy of Meaningful Bouquets here.

Meaningful Bouquets

Meaningful Bouquets by Leslie Jonath and Lisa McGuinnes, photography by Annabelle Breakey, published by Chronicle Books, © 2016; chroniclebooks.com.

Warm Up Your Afternoon with Biscuits and Tea

Nothing is more classic than a sweet and crumbly biscuit and a steaming cup of your favorite tea. Warm up this afternoon with a relaxing tea break befitting a Dickens tale and let these two cookies steal the show.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
Use tea and cookies as an excuse to bring out your favorite china pieces, such as this simple Haviland tea set.

Oatmeal Cookies
Basic yet classy, these traditional oatmeal raisin cookies are the perfect complement to a steaming up of Earl Grey.

Prep: 20 minutes
Bake: 8-10 minutes

Makes 48 cookies

½ cup plus 6 tablespoons (1¾ sticks) butter, softened
¾ cup firmly packed brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt (optional)
3 cups oats (quick or old fashioned, uncooked)
1 cup raisins

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Using an electric mixer in a large bowl, cream together butter and sugars on medium speed. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; mix well.
  4. Add dry ingredients to the butter mixture and stir. Add oats and raisins; mix well.
  5. Drop dough by rounded tablespoonful onto 2 ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 8-10 minutes or until light golden brown.
  6. Cool cookies 1 minute on cookie sheets, then remove to a wire rack. Cool completely and store covered tightly.



Jelly Thumbprint CookiesJelly Thumbprint Cookies
Sweet and buttery cookies with dollop of red raspberry preserves make cheery companions to white or herbal teas.

Prep: 15 minutes
Bake: 12-15 minutes

Makes 36 cookies

1 cup butter (2 sticks), softened
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ cup raspberry preserves
⅓ cup confectioners’ sugar, to serve (optional)

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease 2 baking sheets; set aside.
  2. In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and white and brown sugars. Beat in the egg and vanilla.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour and baking powder.
  4. Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture and mix well.
  5. Form dough into 1-inch balls and place on the prepared baking sheets. Using your thumb, make an indentation in each cookie and fill with raspberry preserves. Bake for 12-15 minutes. Let cool completely and sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar to serve, if desired.

Tip: For a fancier look, place the dough in a cookie press and bake up some cute or classic shapes. Just make sure to add the traditional thumbprint indent and the raspberry preserves before baking.



10 Fun Facts About Tea

A good cup of tea can make anything better

Tea Cups
There is a tea cup for every person’s unique style, from vintage varieties to the latest Lenox patterns.

One of the many things I love about working with my colleagues here at Romantic Homes is that everyone here appreciates a good cup of tea. One beloved staff member even keeps a little collection of beautiful china cups in the office, and she will perk up your work day with a hot cup of tea when she sees you looking stressed.

While visiting the International Home & Housewares show recently in blustery Chicago, I was pleased to meet some folks from Adagio Teas. They gave me a nice warm cup of peach oolong and encouraged me to visit their tea class blog when I returned home.

I did visit the blog, and it’s a great place for tea lovers to hang out and become full-fledged tea aficionados. Here are 10 fun facts about tea to perk up the conversation at your next tea party.

1. Tea is good for you. Among other things, it contains “polyphenols”—antioxidants that repair cells and in doing so, may help our bodies fight help us fend off cardiovascular diseases, cancers, osteoporosis, diabetes mellitus and other maladies. And contrary to popular belief, it’s not just green tea that’s good for you. Black, white, and red tea also have health-giving flavonoids and polyphenols.

2. It takes around 2,000 tiny leaves to make just one pound of finished tea. Tea plants grow wild in parts of Asia, but it can also be farmed. The very best tea comes from high elevations and is hand-picked.

3. Some tea grows in the United States. There is an island tea plantation off the coast of South Carolina and also in Hawaii.

A Malaysia Tea Plantation. Photo: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen, Wikimedia Commons
A Malaysia Tea Plantation. Photo: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen, Wikimedia Commons

4. You are less likely to get a “caffeine crash” when you drink tea (as opposed to soda or coffee). Why? The high levels of antioxidants in tea slow the absorption of caffeine, which results in a gentler increase caffeine in your system and a longer period of alertness with no crash at the end.

tea cup

5. Do you store your tea near your coffee or in your spice cabinet? Don’t. Store your tea away from “strong, competing aromas” so that you keep the tea’s own delicate flavors intact.

6. Americans tasted their first “iced tea” at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. Originally, exhibiting tea merchant Richard Blechynden had planned to give away free samples of his hot tea to attendees. But when a heat wave hit, no one was interested. Parched from the temperature, visitors would pass his booth in search of a cooler refreshment. To save his investment of time and travel, he dumped a load of ice into the brewed tea and served the first iced tea. It was (along with the Egyptian fan dancer) the hit of the Fair, according to the Tea Class blog.

Merchant's Wife at Tea
Boris Kustodiev, “Merchant’s Wife at Tea,” Google Art Project

7. Some tea lovers ponder ideal food-and-tea pairings, just as wine lovers pair food and wine. For your next tea party, check out the suggested pairings on this page.

8. To steep the perfect cup of tea, timing is crucial. And ideal steeping times vary depending on what variety of tea you’re making. For black tea, steeping time is 3-5 minutes. For other steeping times for other varieties, go here.


Mary Cassatt, "Afternoon Tea Party," Wikimedia Commons
Mary Cassatt, “Afternoon Tea Party,” Wikimedia Commons

9. People were using ceramic teapots 11,000 ago in Asia and the Middle East. Tea didn’t reach most Europeans until the late 16th century.

10. Genuine “Darjeeling” tea is grown in an area of India at the foot of the Himalayas that’s less than 70 square miles large. For this reason, Darjeeling is highly prized and known as the “Champagne of teas.”