You would think that Valentine’s Day has always been about lovey-dovey, romantic stuff, but just you wait. For at least a century, Valentine’s Day was also a hotbed for the most crass insults you could throw at someone.
During the Victorian era and into the early 20th century in the U.K. and U.S., “vinegar,” or “comic,” valentines were sent just as often as their tender and sentimental counterparts. Instead of sending to your love, you’d write up a vinegar valentine to send to your nemesis -- or, worse, to someone whose affections weren’t reciprocated.
Typically containing an insulting poem and equally offensive illustration, usually a caricature of the recipient, many of which were drawn by cartoonist Charles Howard in the 19th century, it would draw out the classic unrequited love story: They’re just not that into you!
Whereas nowadays you can post a mean comment under someone’s Instagram photo or send rude emails under a fake name, the Victorians had to get crafty. You could buy these postcards just as easily as you could buy a normal valentine with a sweet message. Or, if you had a particularly personal slight to throw, you wrote one out yourself. And, to add insult to injury, the recipient would be the one to pay for the postage, according to Atlas Obscura.
The anti-Valentine cards were sent anonymously, because humans have always been cowards. These days, we have things like Poop Senders or Troll Cakes, businesses that let you send literal animal poop to someone who wronged you or write up a mean internet comment on a cake, so a troll can eat their words. Oh, how we’ve evolved!
While some messages were more sarcastic and playful, they could also get particularly rude and disrespectful. You could come for someone for being a drunk, or make fun of their bald head, or simply ward off unwanted attention from a poor suitor. Up to 25,000 valentines are said to have been held back at a post office in Chicago because postmen decided they were too shocking to send. The Victorians had a lot of hate in their hearts.
There were political agendas behind some of these vinegar valentines, as well. During the Women’s Suffrage Movement, vinegar valentines were used to target well-meaning activist women. These cards would depict women as ugly and abusive and would be either sent directly to suffragists or passed around groups of like-minded opponents. Not to be outdone, our classy suffragists came out with rebuttal cards of a sort that would tout messages like, “no vote, no kiss.” So, yes, women have been using the withholding of physical intimacy to punish men for centuries.