The Rare Book Division's collection of historic valentines has provided heaps of inspiration this month---in Martha Stewart Living's February issue, on the Martha Stewart Show, and at the latest Handmade Crafternoon event at which staff from Martha Stewart Living were our special guests and donated amazing supplies (you'll find a wrap-up of this event as well as a great gallery of images here). With all the love being shown these valentines, I decided that it was time to introduce the collector who gave them to the Library half a century ago.
Our valentine lover was Helen Adams Masten, and she worked at New York Public Library for 33 years. After starting her career here reading stories to our littlest readers in the 1920s, she was soon made head of the children's center and held that position until her retirement in 1961. On the side, she became an avid collector of vintage and contemporary valentines, eventually amassing hundreds and hundreds that she donated to the Library for the benefit of future researchers (like us!). Her collection now resides in the Rare Book Division, alongside other intriguing and revealing kinds of printed ephemera. I've found a wide variety of valentine greetings--Victorian cards, handmade and hand drawn constructions, cheeky early twentieth century joke cards, cards with various moving parts and pop-up elements, and even valentines Helen personally received from children she met at the Library as well as from children's book authors and illustrators she came to know. Her papers are now held at the University of Southern Mississippi's de Grummond Children's Literature Collection, but the Library is proud to hold her collection of valentines.
A few examples of the variety of kinds of valentines Helen Adams Masten collected. Some have moving parts, some use fabrics and fringes.
These are spiderweb valentines, named so because the circular layer is cut in such a way that when lifted, it reveals a weblike structure that hides beneath it a spot for a secret message.
A hand drawn valentine made for Helen Adams Masten.
The four-leaf clover at the base of this valentine folds up into the shape of a heart.
Want to make your own vintage-inspired valentines? You'll find templates for variations on some of the valentines pictured above here, here, and here! I wish you all a Happy Valentine's Day, full of inspiration.