Valentine's Day conjures images of chocolates, red hearts, roses and, of course, l'amour. For a glimpse of how paramours noted the holiday during the Victorian era, visit Hower House in Akron, which marks February with its annual display of vintage Valentines, calling cards and other tokens of esteem. This year's theme is "Victorian Flirtation."
The Valentines cards themselves are the highlight, and a wide variety can be found within the rooms of the historic Victorian mansion. They range from simple calling cards to elaborate three-dimensional popup cards. There are even a couple of Vinegar Valentines -- cards used for those with a more jaundiced view of Valentine's day (or at least of the recipient).
"Those are from my collection," said Linda Bussey, director. "I got them on Etsy, of all places. These are an American construct, some of them are very insulting. They have a fascinating history. Hopefully, we'll have more to display next year."
Bussey said that the Valentine's display is one of the few exhibits where the majority of the pieces are donated from people outside the Hower family.
"There's only about five Valentines in the Hower collection," Bussey said. "Most of the cards are donated, but they really seem to work here. These things are so hard to find. Victorian scrip is rare in good condition."
In addition to the Valentines, there are also displays of other tokens and means of communication, such as gloves, parasols, fans and even jewelry. Also, the exhibit highlights not just romance, but friendship, particularly with the homemade and heartfelt gifts often exchanged between good friends.
"Women didn't control the purse strings, so they had to work with what they had on hand," Bussey said. "They were very heartfelt."
The result might have been a handmade pincushion, jewelry made from a lock of hair, a small sewn bag or other small token, she said.
Visitors to Hower House on Saturdays through the end of February can enjoy hot tea and gingerbread following the paid tour. Tea and gingerbread is severed from 12:30 until closing.
Hower House is at 60 Fir Hill in Akron, on the University of Akron campus. For details, call 330-972-6909, or visit www.howerhouse.org.