Be My Valentine

It’s that time of year, Valentine’s Day, the 14th of February. There’s more than one martyred St Valentine, Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni, to name but two, along with a legend that one Valentine was prepared to marry Roman soldiers who were allegedly forbidden to do so. Historically, the 14th of February has been associated with the advent of spring. However, since the 1400s the day’s association with romantic love has overwhelmed all other traditions, and it’s usually expressed with a present, a letter, or most often by a card. The latter has been used to express various things apart from love and warmth, including longing, hope, cheek, and the odd barb.

By the end of the 1700s people in Britain generally were sending Valentines, often on plain paper. Some publications offered to make it less plain, filled with suitable verses and advice. Then the industrial revolution came, and more elaborate and affordable cards, and the penny post in 1840 poured fuel on the fire. But what of Shetland?

In the archives catalogue references to Valentines are few. Entries for the romantic meaning are fewer still, and most are to the surname “Valentine.” The Shetland Times of March 1 1875 thought the Valentine era had gone – It is very doubtful if anything like a real valentine is ever sent now – and added that much of what was sent didn’t have the redeeming quality of being funny. By the 27 February 1909 a writer was lamenting – I wonder how many readers of this column can remember the days when valentines were in full vogue? The Shetland News of 20 February 1919 had Thomas Manson noting – … we have grown out of the sending of Valentines on Valentine’s day, which by the way, was last Friday.

Shetland wasn’t alone in this, other Scottish newspapers remarked on it too. St Valentine’s Day had stopped growing and had become a less widespread habit. Although we might think of the Victorian approach being universally and deeply sentimental, some people saw other opportunities. They provided an antidote – the Vinegar Valentine. Originating in the USA, the verses were often uncomplimentary, and if sent from a man to a woman, sometimes getting well over the boundary into misogyny. Analogue trolling. Of course, valentines are anonymous. Well, in theory, and anonymous is often a challenge in Shetland anyway. The vinegar cards are probably what the writer in da paper meant about not being funny.

Things changed in the 1950s, and the Scotsman newspaper, 7 February 1955, remarked that – St Valentine seems to be enjoying a lively revival as the patron saint of lovers. Shetland was certainly getting in on the act by February 1958, with the Shetland Times Shop advertising Valentine’s Day and a “Huge Selection of Cards in Stock.” February 1963 boasted a St Valentine’s Dance in Scalloway Public Hall with music by the Midniters, and you could potentially change your entire life for an admission price of three shillings. Even the Shetland Liberal Association had a Valentine Whist Drive in the same month.

Greeting cards from the Brouster collection received from their family and friends - from the home of the Abernethy family who ran a shop in Brouster, at the Bridge of Walls.

The last Valentine reference in the archives catalogue is in 2005, when the Shetland For Wirds dialect promotion group proposed a Valentine texting event, incorporating a new way of communicating. St Valentine’s Day has had ups and downs of taste, attention and presentation since reviving in the 1950s, but it shows no real sign of going away.

Related Posts

Shetland Museum unveils new photographic exhibition capturing 1970s social history

A new photographic exhibition opens today at Shetland Museum and Archives which provides a glimpse into an aspect of Shetland’s ...

Read more

Shetland Museum unveils ‘All About Everything’ featuring the creative work of Eric Gray students

The creative and colourful work of Eric Gray students is on display from today in a new exhibition ‘All About Everything’ at the ...

Read more

Marion Ninianson’s Roup

Roup is a word not commonly used in Shetland any more, although the Shetland Times in 1962 advertised a house in Scalloway “for sale ...

Read more

New summer exhibition Ebbe and Flow to open this weekend

A new exhibition celebrating cultural and maritime connections with Scandinavia through the work of Scottish and Norwegian artists ...

Read more

Shetland Amenity Trust celebrates collaboration with Shetland Family History Group in acquiring Gilbert Goudie’s Notebook

Shetland Amenity Trust is delighted to announce the successful acquisition of a significant 19th century notebook to the Shetland ...

Read more

Wonderful woolly evening at the Shetland Museum

What a fantastic evening at the Shetland Museum celebrating the announcement of the new Shetland Wool Week Patrons, the Doull Family, ...

Read more

Shining a light on Ann Harriet Pottinger this International Women's Day

To celebrate International Women’s Day 2024 we shine a light on Ann Harriet Pottinger, née Hunter, one of many unsung, hard-working ...

Read more

New book of Shetland Fine Lace Knitting launched

A new publication, ‘Shetland Fine Lace Knitting – Recreating patterns from the past’ by Shetland Museum’s textiles curator, ...

Read more

Profound new exhibition, Polar North, captures the fragility of the Arctic landscape

A profound new exhibition which captures the fragile and shifting beauty of the Arctic landscape opens this Sunday 10 March at Da ...

Read more

Shetland Museum and Archives launches series of ‘Thursday Lates’ heritage talks

Evenings celebrating Shetland’s rich culture and heritage will begin next month as Shetland Museum and Archives launches its ...

Read more

Old style islands courtships

We’re warming ourselves up to the idea of Valentine’s Day. Some might say Shetlanders are not renowned for being romantics and ...

Read more

Shetland Museum celebrates Lerwick Up Helly Aa 2024

The Shetland Museum & Archives was full of activity last week as we celebrated Lerwick Up Helly Aa with a series of fiery events and ...

Read more

Shetland Amenity Trust’s heritage sites open for this year’s Up Helly Aa

The fiery season will soon be back and Shetland Amenity Trust is putting together a series of events as well as offering extended ...

Read more

Shetland's War Memorial - constructed by William Horne

Shetland’s War Memorial on Hillhead is now one hundred years old, and was rededicated with a ceremony on 6 January. The memorial ...

Read more

Christmas in Shetland - 1923

1923, like many of the years between the wars, was not a good one. The Shetland Times year end report spoke of a poor herring fishing, ...

Read more