St. Valentine
The Patron Saint of Love

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St. Valentine's Day is celebrated on February 14 by the custom of sending greeting cards or gifts to express affection to a chosen partner. The cards - valentines - are generally sent anonymously and are often designed with hearts to symbolize love.  

The holiday probably derives from the ancient Roman feast of Lupercalis (February 15).  Originally a festival for shepherds, it was celebrated in honour of Faunus.  Its primary purpose was to secure fertility for the fields, the flocks, and the shepherds themselves.  

  • Early mosaic of St. Valentine. 

The festival gradually became associated with the feast day (February 14) of two Roman martyrs, both named St. Valentine, who lived in the 3rd century, but about whom nothing specific is known.  The above image show an early mosaic by an anonymous artist, of Saint Valentine. 
  • Belgium 2003.  Valentine Stamp 

In Japan, the object of a person's affections is not given a bouquet of flowers by her admirer.  In fact, ladies working in companies present the men (their superiors, whether they like them or not ...) with chocolates.  This custom appears to have been introduced by department stores with a good eye for business after World War II.  Japanese men return the compliment one month later, on 14th March, which is called White Day. 

  • Sweden 1997. Valentine Stamp. 
  • Korea 2000. Valentine Stamp with simulated heart-shaped perforations. 
  • Norway 2000. Valentine Stamp. 

The practice of calling oneself a "valentine" and asking one’s beloved to be the same, is referred to in the Paston Letters, the largest surviving collection of 15th-century English correspondence written by the Paston family and their neighbours in Norfolk. 

This is described very nicely on the stamp to the left, issued by France 1985, and designed by the French artist and cartoonist Raymond Peynet (*1908), probably the world's first St. Valentine Stamp. 

  • France 1985. St. Valentin. 

An early reference to Saint Valentine's Day is found in the works of Geoffrey Chaucer (ca. 1343- 1400), who states that birds pair on this day.  

This may have been the idea behind the souvenir sheet to the right, issued by Denmark in 1999 for St. Valentine.  

The sheet is designed by the Danish artist Sonia Brandes.

  • Denmark 1999.  Pairing birds for St. Valentine.

The first heart-shaped stamps for St. Valentine were issued by France in 1999.  At that time they were a true sensation.  Oddly shaped stamps were already on the market; Olympic circular or oval football stamps, banana-shaped stamps, bottle-shaped stamps, fish-shaped and many more, but the French Valentine-greeting was the first of its kind.  No sheet containing these 2 stamps was issued. 

The stamps were not self-adhesive, but had to be licked the traditional way, and they were difficult to separate from the sheet without damaging the perforations.  

There are two stamps in the set, the one shown to the left, saying "Je t'aime", and another one with a rose inserted in the heart.  

Here is a nice cover with a French heart-shaped stamp (the rose) postally used. Although it was not sent at the occasion of St. Valentine, I liked the cover, and decided to keep it in my collections.  

  • France 1999.  Cover sent 9th April 1999 to Denmark, and franked with the first heart-shaped stamp that France issued for Valentine's Day in 1999. 

In the years to come France followed up on her success with heart-shaped stamps, and the first "designer-stamps" appeared on the market.

  • Left and right: France 2000.  Close-ups of stamps from the above French souvenir sheet designed by Yves Saint Laurent.  

  • Middle:  France 2001.  Heart-shaped Valentine stamp on the background of a full sheet.  The sophisticated French text "Le coeur est le timbre du corps" means in English "The Heart is the Stamp of the Body".  Very appropriate for a heart-shaped stamp issued for St. Valentine :-)

Following the tradition from earlier years, France has launched an annual "fashion show" on stamps, by letting fashion houses design the Valentine stamp of the year.  Here are but a few examples. 

  • France 2005.  Valentine stamps designed by the House Cacharel.   

  • France 2003.  Valentine stamps designed by the House Torrente.

  • France 2004.  Valentine stamps designed by the House Chanel. The border is not black, but has a very fine pattern in monochrome colours that is difficult to scan properly.  

Valentine-stamps are now issued by practically every country around the world.

Although St. Valentine has traditionally been regarded as the patron saint of lovers, this was not the case on the infamous St. Valentine Day of 14th February 1929 in Chicago, when a mass murder of a group of unarmed bootlegging gang members in Chicago took place. The bloody incident dramatized the intense rivalry for control of the illegal liquor traffic during the Prohibition Era in the United States. 

Disguising themselves as policemen, members of the Al Capone gang entered a garage at 2122 North Clark Street run by members of the George “Bugs” Moran gang, lined their opponents up against a wall, and shot them in cold blood. The victims included gang members Adam Heyer, Frank Gusenberg, Pete Gusenberg, John May, Al Weinshank, and James Clark, as well as a visitor, Dr. Reinhardt H.Schwimmer. 

The St. Valentine's Day Massacre and other gangland killings, frequently portrayed vividly by the mass media throughout the world, came to symbolize the violence of the Prohibition Era in Chicago. 

In spite of the bloody events in the past I wish all of you a Happy Valentine.

Happy Valentine To You All :)

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Revised 02 nov 2006 
Copyright © by Ann Mette Heindorff
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