Just prior to this past Valentine’s weekend, Marksman Rob D. wrote me with this note, about what could be considered an antecedent of today’s online abuse:
When first I heard of the concept of vinegar valentines (thanks NPR One) you came to mind, but your latest comic (#1197) cemented the necessity of reaching out to you about them.
Dating to 1840ish, they were illustrated missives sent anonymously on Valentine’s Day with the intent of insulting the recipient. The degree of burn ranged from ‘you drink too much’ to ‘kill yourself, no-one loves you’.
Annabella Pollen of UBrighton (UK) seems to be the foremost scholar on the matter.
Rob sent along this link: an interview with Ms Pollen at the site Collectors Weekly. Here’s an excerpt:
You could send them to your neighbors, friends, or enemies. You could send them to your schoolteacher, your boss, or people whose advances you wanted to dismiss. You could send them to people you thought were too ugly or fat, who drank too much, or people acting above their station. There was a card for pretty much every social ailment…
You have to remember that often they were sent anonymously. They were to say “Your behavior is unacceptable.” For example, there are quite a few cards that mock men with babies on their laps as being henpecked—the kind of thing now we would think was a man doing the right thing by taking his share of child care. But these cards were specifically designed to make the man seem emasculated and disempowered by being left holding the baby. Or there’d be images of women holding rolling pins, threatening their husbands.
The people sending such cards were usually not either one of the couple. It wasn’t the wife sending to the husband or the husband sending to the wife. It was somebody outside, looking in at their relationship and saying, “This doesn’t conform with what’s expected”…
The cards are quite a surprise to those who think the past was always so safe and the present is so very daring, and that we’re much more libertarian now than we have ever been in any other period in time. I think we only have to look back at this sort of stuff to see that that’s not the case.
The full interview is well worth a read, with a ton of pictures of vinegar valentines dating back to the 1840s or so. (There’s even a picture of what might be a relative to our friend Gax.)
Thanks for the link, Rob!