Nancy Rosin has been a serious collector of Valentines, and expressions of love, for more than thirty years. She writes extensively, and enjoys sharing her passion. Her personal collection contains more than 10,000 items. In the following interview, Nancy gives us a glimpse into the fascinating world of Valentines.
ephemera: How did you become interested in Valentines? Did you begin consciously, knowing what you would collect, or did you just one day discover what you were doing?
Rosin: More than thirty years ago, my adventure with ephemera began with those very familiar Victorian die-cut, chromolithographed scraps. In the seventies, decoupage was a very popular craft, and I thought I'd find time, one day when my children were older, to create beautiful decoupage projects. As I began stockpiling my little posies, angels, and all sorts of sweet designs, I accidentally discovered Victorian Valentines. At that moment, one of the purposes for those decorative little paper gems became apparent—the embellishment of Valentines! My allegiance shifted suddenly, and dramatically, and my love affair with Valentines began. I was no longer as interested in the individual decorative elements, but in the actual Valentine.
I devoured the out-of-print books on the subject, by authors Ruth Webb Lee and Frank Staff, and, as I learned the depth of the subject, I succumbed to their history, sentiment, and beauty. This new passion fueled my pursuits, as I vowed to find and study the best examples of every type, and thus demonstrate its evolution. My goal would be to create a solid body of material that would be a basis for scholarly research and writing, thereby elevating the concept of "the Valentine", while earning respect for them as an important chronicle--a veritable social documentary of people and customs.
ephemera: I once found a huge box of vintage Valentines that had been tossed out. They were spectacular--museum quality--and I ran into all sorts of trouble trying to find a home for them. It seemed a shame they were headed for a landfill. I hope they found their way into good hands. Who knows, they may have even ended up in your collection. What obstacles do you encounter as a collector?
Rosin: The breadth of this subject is enormous, and there is no aspect I don't adore! I love the early historic pieces, as well as the more contemporary ones, but it is the historic icons that touch me in a visceral way. There are two categories, handmade, and machine made, which separate much of what I collect. Influenced by the development of the postal systems, by the Industrial Revolution, and by the political environment, and the periods during which they were made, each piece reflects the people who made or bought them. The simplicity and tenderness of the paper cut heart and hand is among the most tender and enduring images. As a token of love, it reflects a purity of the gift, the time and generosity involved, and its' enduring symbolism.
The elegant cameo-embossed, die-cut lace papers manufactured in England in the first half of the nineteenth century—about the same time as those simple American paper cut hearts--demonstrates advances in technology—in both the machinery and the paper, itself. Dramatic designs were embellished with gems, silk chiffon, gilt Dresden scraps, cobweb devices, feathers, and a multitude of elegant trims. Expensive, they still found an enthusiastic audience and were greatly successful.
There are the fabulous engravings and lithographs, often created by famous artists, and the wonderful chromolithographed open-outs and postcards of the end of the nineteenth century. All of them mirrored events of the time—war, transportation, politics, poetry, artists, and they appealed to various responsive audiences. The comic Penny Dreadful, or Vinegar Valentine, cannot be left out, for they are important historic relics. And in the midst of these, we find the Civil War Soldier's Tent--just one of the important mementos which linked the soldier to his home. So, do I have a favorite? Perhaps the Devotionals cut by nuns in Alsatian convents--precursors of the Valentine, maybe the bejeweled Biedermeier friendship cards, or perhaps the tiny piece which wishes luck in "Amerika" to a departing Swiss immigrant. They are all a part of my history, the ephemera of love. The list is endless--be it the work of Kate Greenaway or Francesco Bartolozzi… These objects carry the fingerprints of love, as they tell the story of people, just like us, who shared that deepest emotion.
I would have to, finally, say that my favorite item is a handmade, cut paper Valentine made by Thomas Hill for Miss Ann Eliza Cromwell--described as "sweet as shugar and prosesh as gold", and dated Burlington, Vermont, 1822. At 22' square, the paper was cut into a circle, folded, and embellished with cutwork horses, houses, trees, and American Eagles. Pasted upon a dark blue background, and adorned with golden paper stars and moon--it personifies the word, precious. I look at it and think of that time in history, that snowy countryside, and the amorous gentleman who created my treasure, probably by candlelight. The pieces in my collection are alive with tenderness, and it is my obligation to preserve that love.
One may choose to collect the full range, as I have, or focus on one specific area. Each—from the purist scrimshaw busks and shell Valentines, Fraktur and Scherenschnitte, to the colorful and heartwarming artistry of Frances Brundage and Ellen Clapsaddle, are fascinating. This is a subject that has great appeal for everyone and numerous collecting opportunities. Some people are content to own just one lovely Valentine—to frame it as a piece of art, and enjoy daily—and that's great, too.
Sometimes, a single Valentine can bring an interesting accent to a collection. Wonder Woman or Superman for a cartoon collector, Walt Disney film characters, locomotives, sewing machines, golf, and baseball—and there are Valentines to complement virtually every category of collecting.
Rosin: The challenges to collecting are not impossible to overcome. The biggest necessity is to educate yourself. Read, visit museums, attend auctions—no need to buy—but these can be an opportunities to touch, to absorb, and to learn. Go to every show you can, and acquire the background you need so that you can buy knowledgeably. Also, do not plunge in with expensive items until you are confident. Dealers do not always know what they have, but if you know your subject, you have the advantage.
ephemera: Talk about your new role in the National Valentine Collectors Society. What is your vision for the Society going forward?
Rosin: Thirty-two years ago, Evalene Pulati founded the National Valentine Collectors Association in Santa Ana, California. For all these years, she served as its President, and enabled the organization to thrive. A quarterly newsletter and auction, articles of interest, and frequent gatherings in different areas of the country created friendships and enhanced our collecting passion. For many years, I served as her vice-president, and answered inquiries, wrote articles, and participated in the newsletter. For health reasons, Evalene has made the decision to step down, and I will be the new President starting in January. It will be a challenge, but Valentines never go out of style, they are barely affected by the economy, and I intend to prove that love is always in the air.
My role will be not only to enable the association to continue, but to grow. We will have a new website where we hope to answer questions and post articles and images to supplement the paper newsletter. Having led the annual Live Valentine Chat on eBay for the past eight years, I have met many wonderful people who find the topic fascinating, but who are not necessarily collectors. I hope to provide a new meeting place for friends at every level of expertise, including craft projects, recipes, and ways in which Valentines can create important memories for our families. Wearing my other hat, as a member of the Board of Directors of the Ephemera Society of America, I hope to entice many more people to join, provide a Speaker's Bureau, and generally provide a forum for people who are interested in any aspect of the subject. I warmly invite your participation.
ephemera: Oh, thank you for the warm invitation. You know, the Ephemera Society of America was a long-time sponsor of the ephemera blog. I certainly appreciated the Board's support, and I'll take this opportunity to thank you for that support and hope the organization will return someday as a sponsor. What resources do you recommend for people interested in Valentines?
Rosin: Collecting has an accompanying obligation—that of preservation. It is mandatory that the things that come into our possession be saved, so that future generations can also enjoy them and benefit from our knowledge. Archival pages are now readily available, and are the essential tool for the collector. Personally, I enclose the paper object in a protective Mylar sleeve, then, insert it into the page, or even into a "rigid" acid-free protector. That way, the simple act of removal does not damage the item.
Framed objects should be archival-matted so that the glass is not touching the item, and always kept out of the sun. Sun, heat, too dry, too damp - these are all important considerations. Additionally, I try to buy items in good condition - so repairs are not necessary, and never acquire anything with mold or a musty smell, as they can contaminate your entire collection.
Resources providing inspiration and knowledge are unlimited. The knowledgeable collector needs to learn about the history of their time period, about developing technology, and about world events and politics. Understanding helps one to gain a historic perspective to recognize its' relationship in the larger picture. Museum collections, shows, auctions, and libraries offer opportunities to see and learn without expense. Catalogs from past auctions are useful tools which offer a wealth of information. Resources are often found in unlikely places, and the interested person should always be receptive to new learning opportunities.
ephemera: Thank you, Nancy.