Is materialism ripping out the heart of Valentine’s Day?

Every February, thousands of Americans lament the commercialism of this holiday with critical articles and tweets about modern consumerism. Some blame the pressures of social media on the rise in spending. And it is definitely rising; the National Retail Federation estimates that more than $20 billion will be spent on 2019’s Valentine celebrations. The creativity of advertisers is not to be undersold, of course, as enterprising executives have discovered how to widen the consumer market to include those who are currently unattached. “After the chocolates have been eaten and the flowers wilt, roaches remain thriving and triumphant. Give the gift that’s eternal and name a roach for Valentine’s Day.” That’s right, for fifteen dollars, you can name a roach after your ex and send them a digital certificate from the Bronx Zoo.[1]

Valentine’s Day advertisement in The New York Herald, January 27, 1863. Courtesy of Chronicling America.

Some may be surprised to learn that St. Valentine’s Day, and all its commercialism, was alive and well during the bloodiest war of our nation’s past. Much like today, nineteenth-century advertisers and newspapers relentlessly warned their patrons that the holiday loomed. On February 11, 1864, the Holmes County Farmer newspaper in Ohio read, “We are reminded that Valentine Day is approaching. Tuesday next, the 14th inst., is set aside as the carnival of lovers. It is said the birds choose their mates on that day, and, it being leap year, it is expected all the marriageable girls will select their mates.”[2]

During the war, companies ran a number of Valentine ads that targeted women with loved ones off at battle. “Don’t forget your soldier lovers. Keep their courage up with a rousing Valentine. All prices. Six cents to five dollars each,” advertised Strong’s Valentine Depot in 1862. In 1863, New York City’s American Valentine Company promoted “soldiers’ valentine packets,” “army valentine packets,” and “torch of love packets.” In Washington D.C., Shillington’s likewise advertised packets specifically for soldiers, which “contains two superb sentimental valentines and elegant embossed envelopes; also comic valentines and beautiful valentine cards in fancy envelopes.”[3]

The entire article can be viewed on the Journal of the Civil War Era Muster blog.

Skip to toolbar