One of the oldest and rarest Valentines in existence has been uncovered – and it offers the secret to lasting love.
The centuries-old illustrated letter, sent on February 14, 1818, is coming up for auction on Valentine’s Day – and it could potentially fetch a four-figure sum.
For the last 20 years, it’s been carefully stored in an album and protected from sunlight by Gavin Littaur, from London. But on Friday, February 14 it’s set to go under the hammer at Derbyshire’s Hansons Auctioneers, with a guide price of £600-£800.
Mr Littaur said: “I’m a bit of a romantic and just talking about this Valentine rekindles my love for it. It’s beautiful – exceptionally so, in fact. One of the reasons I’m selling it now is to show the collecting world what an outstanding early Valentine really looks like.
“I bought it at auction more than 20 years ago. I don’t recall exactly how much I paid for it, but it was expensive at the time. George III would have been on the throne when this embossed letter was made by Dobbs of London more than 200 years ago. It’s one of the earliest postally-used Valentines in existence.
“Any pre-Victorian one is very rare. I once owned a Valentine from 1801 but it wasn’t as stunning as this one. I’ve been a collector of postal history for decades and it’s the finest I’ve ever seen.”
The hand-painted, 202-year-old Regency letter features hearts, flowers, Cupid, lovebirds – and the address of the recipient. It was sent to Miss L Shafe, of White Row, Spitalfields, London. She received the following message under the title, ‘An affectionate Pledge of Unfeigned Attachment’:
‘From him who upon the return of another Valentine’s Day, looks forward with pleasure to the time when his hopes may be realised; & at the altar of Hymen (Greek god of love) he shall receive the hand accompanied with the heart of her for whom he feels – not a wild and romantic love, which abates after a short acquaintance – but an affection which time increases rather than diminishes.’
Jim Spencer, works on paper specialist at Hansons, said: “What a sensible chap. No flash-in-the-pan passion for him. It's a Valentine message worthy of a Jane Austen novel. It’s formal, honest and honourable – a far cry from some of the messages we see on Valentines for sale today.
“Perhaps his message to Miss Shafe offers us the secret of lasting love – an affection which gradually increases over time.
“We’ll never know if he won her heart by his admission of not feeling wild passion, but I hope he did. It’s a superb early Valentine in very good condition and deserves to excel at auction.
“Mr Littaur is a respected and knowledgeable collector and I agree wholeheartedly with his comments about its pedigree. Someone will surely fall in love with this.”
Gavin says: “Collecting is a bit like a marriage. The most passionate moment is the first time you see something special, like this Valentine. It’s also very satisfying, when one actually acquires the item. But, over time, the intense excitement gradually fades.
“Though I like to look at the Valentine and occasionally show it to friends, when you have owned something for decades the time comes when you want others to enjoy it, while you are still around.”
The Regency Valentine on folding paper bears the manufacturer’s watermark, Dobbs 1815, and its original red sealing wax. As well as the central romantic verse within a gilt love heart, it has an embossed floral border and a vibrant watercolour floral border surmounted by two gilt doves and a heart pierced with crossed arrows.
The Valentine, lot 1000, will be sold on February 14, 2020 at Hansons Auctioneers, Heage Lane, Etwall, Derbyshire DE65 6LS. To find out more, or arrange free valuations of books or works on paper, email [email protected].
Fascinating Footnote: A Happy Ending?
After we published this story, we received the following message from a reader: 'I don’t know if you’re interested but I looked for the marriage of Miss L Shafe and found Miss Lydia Shafe who married Edmundus Burn at St Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch, on 28th December, 1819. The witnesses were Mary Burn and Clifford Elisha. Edmundas was a stationer and bookbinder and he and Lydia went to live in Brighton. They had five children.