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Peek inside 230-year-old Aylesbury Valentines card

The Valentine, circa 1790-1810 - credit Hansons (1)

Published by Dan Gooding at 5:35am 14th February 2019. (Updated at 12:32pm 14th February 2019)

What may be the world's oldest Valentines card, sent to someone in Aylesbury 230 years ago, is up for auction today.

The note and picture were discovered in a collection of more than 200 cards.

It was sent to someone at Hartwell House in 1790.

A delicate discovery

The recipient of the Valentine - credit Hansons (1)
The recipient of the Valentine

The message of love, which dates back to circa 1790 – around 230 years ago - has just been discovered by Charles Hanson, owner of Derbyshire’s Hansons Auctioneers.

He said:

“I was assessing a large, private collection of more than 200 mainly Victorian and Georgian Valentine’s cards in three albums and had gone through them several times when I came across something very special – a message of love written more than 200 years ago.

“It’s delicate and torn as it’s been written on paper. Nevertheless, it resembles a traditional card with a picture on the front and a verse inside.

“Despite the damage, caused by the fact that it was folded to post to its recipient at Hartwell House in Aylesbury, its heartfelt, handwritten declaration of love is still intact and that’s enormously touching.”

Sketches on the  front of the Valentine - Credit Hansons (1)
Sketches on the front of the Valentine

The front of the card features the word love and sketches of hearts and a dove carrying a sealed envelope.

Message of love from two centuries ago

The verse inside the Valentine - credit Hansons (1)
The verse inside the Valentine

The message on the front reads:

“Farewell you sweet and turtle dove. On you alone, I fixed my love. And if you never can be mine. I never can no comfort find!”

Inside, a handwritten verse reads:

‘Life they say is but a span
Let’s be happy while we can
Life is short then don’t decline
Therefore make your choice today
Let me pray thee to be mine
Oh my dear sweet Valentine
You are not sure my dearest dear
Of a Valentine next year
Pray thee answer by a line
If you will be my Valentine.’

Mr Hanson said:

“This Valentine, circa 1790-1810, dates back to the reign of Mad King George III. Romantic novelist Jane Austen lived from 1775-1817 and love notes like this could have been familiar to women of her generation.

“It was due to be sold in our Spring Library Auction but, in the name of true romance, I wanted to give hopeless romantics the opportunity to buy it on February 14 at 10am. It must be the world’s oldest Valentine still in existence that’s available to buy on Thursday. Let’s honour everlasting love.”

Who discovered the card?

The front of the Valentine - credit Hansons (1)
The front of the Valentine

The card is part of a collection, which belonged to the late Lawrence Randle, a keen philatelist and card collector who died at the age of 88 in 2009.

His son, Oliver Randle, a retired computer service manager from Newbury, said:

“My father collected most of these cards in the UK between 1949 and 1990 before moving to South Africa on his retirement. He worked for the Inland Revenue, rising to district valuer before retiring in the 1980s.

“Throughout his adult life he visited stamp and card shops in many towns and took great pleasure in finding items of interest, overlooked by others, in large boxes of unsorted cards.”

In Britain, Valentine’s Day began to be celebrated in the 17th century.

By the middle of the 18th century, friends and lovers of all social classes exchanged small tokens of affection or handwritten notes.

A £7,000 sale!

The estimate was £300-£400 for today's audction.

However, after a lovestruck bidding battle involving two phone bidders and internet bidders from Europe and America, the centuries-old message of love secured a hammer price of £5,800. With buyer’s premium and VAT, the total price paid will be £7,192. 

The Valentine was brought by phone bidder Jakki Brown, 54, from London. She fell in love with its historical significance – and greetings cards are her life.   

She is editor and co-owner of London’s Progressive Greetings, the market leading trade magazine for the greeting card industry and official journal of the Greeting Card Association.

She is also the  editorial director and joint managing director of Max Publishing and joint general secretary of the Greetings Cards Association.

She said:

“I’m so happy. I was convinced I would be outbid.  I was so nervous about the sale, I hardly slept the night before.

“I’ve bought this because I really believe in the art of card sending and to buy this on Valentine’s Day makes it extra special. I will use it to promote the art of sending greetings cards. This year is the 100th anniversary of the Greeting Card Association. 

“For me, this Valentine is a wonderful example of an enduring British tradition. I will never sell it.”

She plans to treasure it alongside another collector’s item in her possession. In 2005 she bought the first ever commercially produced Christmas card that Sir Henry Cole published in 1843.

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