The year is 1845. William Penhaligon was a mere 9 years old. We can only imagine he was playing in the Cornish countryside, pasty in hand, nose thrust deep into a bed of posies. At the same time, somewhere in London, a delightfully loving lady or gentleman was bestowing upon their better half a Valentine's card that would be peered upon by thousands of others - The Barometer of Love.
The card went on to take residence in the Victoria & Albert Museum, no less. What is perhaps most fascinating about this seemingly lace-covered card – which is, in fact, embossed paper whose raised edges have been filed off – is that it would go on to be a point of inspiration for Penhaligon's very own Portraits Barometer of Love.
A shell on the top of the Barometer of Love card is inscribed with the words “My spirit hath an atmosphere / That's ruled by Thee alone / 'Tis ever sunshine when thou't near / And cloudiness when gone!”.
These cards, along with the more derisive Vinegar Valentine’s cards – whose cruel messages and additional insult of having required the receiver pay for the postage – are available to view in the Prints and Drawings Study room of London’s renowned Victoria & Albert Museum.
The tradition of sending love tokens and notes on the 14th February was not some avaricious Hallmark creation, but has origins overflowing with virtue, and can be traced back to the time of Joan of Arc. Though she may have been a little too engrossed in other pursuits to have developed any significant romantic interests. Yes, sadly nobody set her heart, or loins, ablaze. We’re sure Changing Constance, our cashmere-clad feminist, can sympathise with that.
Early Valentine’s cards usually took the form of handwritten notes or poems. It wasn’t until new printing techniques and inexpensive paper options emerged in the 18th century that Valentine’s became the industry it is today. The affectionate and personal gift of perfume has been bestowed upon loved ones since the times of ancient Egypt. We’re terribly sorry, Valentine’s cards, perfumery beat you to the punch on that.
Why not saunter hand in hand through the V&A with one's nearest and dearest to see these treasured tokens? Only one question remains; whether you are able tear your eyes away from each other for long enough to spot it.