People often joke that Valentine’s Day is a holiday created by card and chocolate companies to make money, but the tradition actually goes back to the 5th century, with origins reflecting those of a Roman holiday called Lupercalia. Now when we think of Valentine’s Day we think of love. We send cards, flowers and give gifts. We celebrate with our spouses and lovers, but also with many other loved ones in our circle of family and friends.
In the mid 1800’s a large variety of mean valentines became popular. The cards were often ornate and almost always had rhymes proclaiming some unfavorable quality or feature of the recipient. There were cards trashing almost any career, hobby, feature and type of lifestyle.
These cards were printed poorly and made with low quality materials so they were sold cheaply, for about the equivalent of one penny. This is how they were often given the nickname of Penny Dreadfuls. The true definition of Penny Dreadfuls is similar. They were inexpensive, poorly printed, often one page trash writing. The pages often featured garish acts of sexuality or grisly murders and crimes.
Perhaps the most heinous characteristic of these valentines is that were sent anonymously. They were also often sent by someone outside of the home so the receiver would know that a neighbor or co-worker not only disliked a characteristic of their life, they disliked it so much that they felt inclined to buy and send the offensive message.
Perhaps the same people that felt good about sending these have spawned the current generation of internet trolls who spread their vitriol on Internet sites, chat pages and comment sections of news sites, blogs and fan pages. Here’s hoping that the only Penny Dreadul valentines that you or I will see this holiday will look more like the one below than the ones above.