Valentine’s Day – as reported by the Illustrated London News

The Illustrated London News - masthead
The Illustrated London News – masthead

I’m sure it couldn’t have escaped anyone’s notice that it’s Valentine’s Day this week. One of our Triborough Reference Librarians, Debby Wale, has been looking at how this day has been covered in the past.

Looking at the month of February, traditionally  associated with Valentine’s Day on 14th February, I looked through Kensington Central Reference Library’s holdings of the The Illustrated London News.

The  library has copies of the  The Illustrated London News from 1842 to 2000.  This publication is probably best described by the Encyclopedia Britannica.

A magazine of news and the arts, published in London, a forerunner in the use of various graphic arts. It was founded as a weekly in 1842 by Herbert Ingram, and it became a monthly in 1971. It was London’s first illustrated periodical, the first periodical to make extensive use of woodcuts and engravings and the first to use photographs.

As well as serious news, The Illustrated London News had lighter articles and poems. Today, folk often complain that Valentine’s Day has become over commercialised. Looking back to 1877, we see that there were indeed a large choice of Valentine cards.

This pretty child who seems to be taking counsel from her doll – which shall I choose?
Image from The Illustrated London News, 1877
Image from The Illustrated London News, 1877

As always, there are Great Expectations from the postman on Valentine’s Day….

Image from The Illustrated London News, 11 February 1882
Image from The Illustrated London News, 11 February 1882
The customary sending and receiving of pretty love-tokens becomes the occasion of a little playful excitement among the children, especially the girls below their ‘teens’

In 1868, another rush to the door, to see what the postman brings.

'Valentine's Day' drawn by G.H.Thomas, 1868
‘Valentine’s Day’ drawn by G.H.Thomas, 1868

And from The Illustrated London News 11 February 1899.

Image from The Illustrated London News 11 February 1899
Image from The Illustrated London News, 11 February 1899
The ancient festival of St Valentine, of which poor Ophelia sang, has, in recent years, fallen into neglect; but although outward observance of the day may be slight, our Artist seems to be persuaded that, as the old verse has it, “Cupid still calls at a pretty girl’s door”

From the same issue February 1899 – Mardi Gras in Paris, 14 February.

On Mardi Gras (Shrove Tuesday) in Paris the Carnival is at it’s height. Holiday-makers pelt each other with confetti until the street are ankle deep in the paper snow. The  police insist that every handful shall be freshly thrown and of one colour, and that no confetti to be picked up.

Paris, of course, being the city for lovers.

Image from The Illustrated London News, 11 February 1899
Image from The Illustrated London News, 11 February 1899

The course of  true love doesn’t always run smooth, as illustrated in a cartoon from February 13 1886 by S T Dodd.

Cartoon by S.T. Dodd from The Illustrated London News, 13 February 1886
Cartoon by S.T. Dodd from The Illustrated London News, 13 February 1886

As the text is too small for you to read, I’ve copied out some of it for you.

Young Smithers invests in an expensive valentine to send to his adored, Miss Jones.
 He directs the same, putting his initials in the corner that she may know it’s from him.
 Her Maiden Aunt, another Miss Jones, at the same address, takes unto herself the Valentine with rapture.
 The day afer, Smithers calls, his adored is cold and distant, her Aunt effusive…

You can guess the rest, but on hearing of her mistake, the Aunt swoons!Smithers explains the situation to his Adored, and the “affair terminates in the usual manner” Miss Matilda Jones becomes Mrs William Smithers.

In an edition from 1900 two take A Spin on Valentine’s Day.

A spin on Valentine's Day
A spin on Valentine’s Day, 10 February 1990

But of course, ultimately, diamonds really are a girl’s best friend. Just in time for Valentines day in February 1905 – The Discovery of the World’s Biggest Diamond, 29 Times Bigger Than the Koh-I-Noor. Discovered at the Premier Mine Johannesburg, weighing 3032 carats, the new diamond is compared with other famous gems.

The world's biggest diamond!
The world’s biggest diamond!

Speaking of jewels, come along to Kensington Central Reference Library and see The Illustrated London News for yourself – just one of our many treasures!

Debby Wale
Debby Wale

Debby Wale, Triborough Reference Librarian

Chelsea Reference Library

Further information

  • Kensington Central Reference Library has almost the complete holdings of The Illustrated London News in their store.
  • The Encyclopedia Britannica can be accessed via our reference and information web page. You’ll need a Kensington and Chelsea library card to access this.
  • Westminster City Libraries has electronic access to The Illustrated London News via Westminster City Libraries website. You’ll need at Westminster Libraries card to access this.