DACO featured
One of the historic Valentines from the collection of curator George Johnson, who has put together a comprehensive exhibition of Valentines dating back over 200 years at the Decorative Arts Center. (Emily Votaw/WOUB Public Media)

200 Years of Valentines at the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio

Posted on:

< < Back to

Among the vast collection of holiday associated decorative art that makes up the collection of George and Jeannie Johnson is a 175-year-old Valentine that could have been penned by a frustrated, toxic young man in the present. Dated 1845, the imported British Valentine (which would have been exceedingly expensive in the mid-1800s) was sent from Zanesville, OH to a woman named Rebecca. On the back of it is a whopping 82-line, exceedingly morose poem that not only declares the sender’s undying affection for Rebecca but states that the sender will simply die if their affections are not returned.

That must have been quite a bit of pressure to place on Rebecca, whose reaction we will never know, but we can hope consisted of scoffing and shaking her head. Regardless of whether the sender’s attempts to emotionally blackmail his would-be Valentine worked, Rebecca apparently held onto the elaborate card, and for that we can be glad.

“Those are the type of Valentines we like the most, (…) the ones that have a story to tell other than just the artwork,” said Dr. Johnson in an interview with WOUB about the exhibition in which the aforementioned card is featured: “200 Years of Valentines” at the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio (145 East Main Street, Lancaster). The exhibition consists of an elaborate display of Valentines from the 1820s onward in the parlor area of the historic Reese-Peters House that the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio is housed in. The display will be up through the month of February, and on Sunday, February 9 at 2 p.m., Dr. Johnson will be on hand to give a free guided tour of the exhibition. Reservations for the tour can be made by calling 740-681-1423.

Dr. Johnson spoke to WOUB about the exhibition in the interview embedded above, touching on the history of the holiday, the surprising secret messages that so many Valentines contain, and how the holiday came to be the explosion of pink and red that decorates everywhere from the drugstore to the supermarket this time of year.

A display of historic Valentines on the mantel in the parlor area of the historic Reese-Peters House where the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio is housed. (Emily Votaw/WOUB Public Media)
One of the many elaborate, older Valentines on display at the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio through the month of February. (Emily Votaw/WOUB Public Media)
Although a lot has changed about the world over the past 200 years, Valentine’s Day is still very much represented by red, pink, and white lace, as demonstrated by these historic Valentines. (Emily Votaw/WOUB Public Media)

The Decorative Arts Center of Ohio is located at 145 East Main Street in Lancaster. The museum’s hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The museum is closed on Mondays. Admission is always free.