Dear Old Man:
My mother has a small Victorian valentine collection. One of her valentines is, we believe, by Esther Howland. How can we identify these valentines, do they have value, and do you have any suggestions for learning about them? We are not interested in selling them, but would like to know about them.
Esther Howland was born in Worcester, Mass., Aug. 17, 1828. Her father, Southworth, was the leading stationer and bookseller in Worcester. She was a graduate of Mount Holyoke College (1847). She died in 1904. Valentines of the day were either “homemade” or imported from England. English ones featured an elaborate border of fine lace paper and decorated with colored flowers that had been cut out and pasted on.
Esther is reported to have received one while at Mount Holyoke. She was so impressed with it that she asked her father to stock them in his store. When they arrived from England she studied them and tried her own hand at creating a valentine. Others soon followed.
Her brothers worked for their father in his stationery store. One, Allen, was the traveling salesman for the firm. On his first sales trip he sold $5,000 worth of valentines. Embossed lace paper was ordered from England and trimmings from New York. The attic of the Howland home was set up as the factory and by 1849 Howland Valentines were in production.
Identifying marks for Howland Valentines is a small letter “H” stamped in red on either the upper or lower corner of the back page. Later, as in your valentine, she embossed “N.E.V. Co.” (New England Valentine Company, 1860s).
Value depends on condition. Valentines as with all paper collectibles are easily torn, water marked, or in some way impaired.
Your valentine looks in good to excellent condition so, I’ll go out on the old limb and say $125 to $175 for insurance replacement value. I think an easy read for valentine information is “A History of Valentines” by Ruth Webb Lee, Studio Publications, New York. She does not give values but it’s very informative.
Ed Tuten is the executive secretary of the New England Appraisers Association. His phone numbers are 901-758-2659 or 901-216-7070. His address is 6973 Crestridge Rd., Memphis, TN. 38119 Please send good photos with your questions.