This post first appeared on A Time for Love, Christina Cole's blog, and I have reposted it here to celebrate Valentine's Day 2014
From Christina: I loved this post from Australian author, Tea Cooper. I’m always excited when someone loves Valentine’s Day as much as I do, and it is with great pleasure I present Tea’s
“Valentine’s Day Musings”.
While I was doing some research for a historical romance, I stumbled across the ultimate Valentine … Australian love tokens or leaden hearts as they were also known. I’d never heard of them before. They weren’t solely reserved for Valentine’s Day but they belong as surely as any Valentine’s Day card, poem or love letter.
When This You See
When I am Far
Coins were used to create love tokens in England as early as the 1400s. At first, the coins were simply bent out of shape, usually twice, so that they could not be used as money. They were then given to a lover as a token or amulet.
When prisoners were sentenced to transportation to Australia between 1788 and 1868 it was seen as a one-way trip. Often they were imprisoned in Newgate or the hulks, rotting ships on the Thames, to await passage and during that time many of them fashioned love tokens as a memento to leave behind with their loved ones.
The National Museum in Canberra and the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney both have collections. I can’t look at them without tearing up. The messages on them tell so many stories of love.
There were also the more sophisticated leaden hearts that probably cost the poor convict his last remaining pennies…
The engraved side shows a female figure with an anchor leaning on a rectangular structure, with two crossed hearts and a bird flying above, a ship sailing in the distance, and the text:
I love till death shall stop my breath
And finally my two favourites because I am fascinated
by the stories behind them…
Given to S K.
By J D her
Brother in law
The other side features a design of an ornate pot with crossed hearts below a border and flowers. I can’t help wonder about SK’s story and her relationship with her brother-in –law!
(with a heart engraved to one side.)
On the other side the text ‘
I’ve left you here for
To complain til I
Return to Old
So many untold stories!
By then I was bitten by the bug and went in search of other Australian ‘love tokens’ and I was sidetracked yet again. I found this Valentine’s Day card at the Powerhouse Museum.
Apparently picture postcards first appeared around 1869 and marked the beginning of Valentine’s Day cards in Australia then around 1910 there was an outbreak of “vulgar” postcards and the straight-laced Australian society threatened to make the “Valentine’s Day card extinct…” Surely this couldn’t be the case!
Off I went again…. and discovered this….from the Brisbane Courier on 15th February in 1928
“Who’ll be My Valentine?”
Time was when St. Valentine’s Day brought to many a young maiden a sheaf of artistically designed missives from anonymous donors each expressing, per medium of a white dove, or the conventional heart pierced with Cupid’s dart, or, the true lover’s knot, the tenderest devotion. Yesterday was St. Valentine’s day, but the postman was not overloaded.
Alas! The patron saint of true lovers has fallen upon evil days … he is cast out from the ecclesiastical calendar … the advent of the picture post-card and the degeneration to vulgar humour dealt the custom its death blow … and this year it is safe to say that there were few of these messengers of sweet prevailment passing through the post.
Last year a determined attempt to resurrect the custom was made in England, but it is likely that the next generation will see its complete extinction.
Well, The Brisbane Courier certainly got it wrong or perhaps they just ahead of their time? Maybe love letters, love tokens, even Valentine’s Day cards are finally destined to “complete extinction”.
How do people send their messages of love today? I can’t see a museum keeping a collection of emails, text messages, even Facebook posts. Something definitely gets lost in translation. Perhaps I’m a sentimental fool searching for immortality—I’d rather have a letter or a card or better still a love token, in the hope one day someone will look at it and tear up knowing my love truly was eternal.
This Valentine’s Day I will be sending my message handwritten with a fountain pen (yes, I still have one) on a piece of recycled paper in the hope that it will live on down the ages and the next generations will not “see its complete extinction.”
How about you? Cyber Valentine or old-fashioned romance?
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