Highlights from

The Herald Democrat

50 Years Ago

Theresa O’Brien’s

Valentine Collection

Friday, February 12, 1971


Theresa O’Brien has a lovely collection which she has brought out and arranged on an heirloom of the O’Brien family, the grand piano, for a display this weekend. The collection goes back to the days when love, so much talked about today as the solution to the world’s ills, was very colorfully expressed on one day a year, St. Valentine’s Day, February 14. Mrs. O’Brien’s display will be up until after Valentine’s Day for friends to view.

The square grand piano in the O’Brien family, like many other historical items Theresa has preserved, was owned originally by O’Brien forebears residing in Brooklyn, New York. Eventually it was shipped across the plains to Buena Vista to William Edward O’Brien at a cost of $75 in 1890. It was later transported to Leadville by Theresa’s late husband, Charles E. O’Brien.

The Valentine collection is outstanding for both the elaborate type, which were reserved for sending to somebody special, and the smaller, less expensive kind, which were always exchanged among children in school.

The “nth degree” of exquisite Valentines used musical instruments, such as large harps with golden strings, for the theme. These elaborate Valentines were packed in fancy boxes, too.

Red honeycomb tissue, still in use today, but on a much smaller scale, was a feature of many of the old Valentines.

Hearts to bring out the theme of the day were fashioned of sugar glass or satin, along with the painted kind.

Outstanding in Mrs. O’Brien’s collection are the wax creations which came from Germany to the O’Brien family during World War I. Germany is noted for the fine Valentines which were made there in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Theresa’s German Valentines are unique, being of waxy composition and resembling ropes of candles rolled into pads, with pictures of the Virgin and other beautiful women to carry out the Valentine message.

From 1908 to 1915, greeting card manufacturers were led to produce the post card type of Valentines, now very rare.

The advantage of the Valentine post card in those days was that it could be mailed anywhere for a penny. Grandparents and great-grandparents of today can remember  the endearing old-fashioned designs in rich antique colors that made up these post card greetings.

Beginning in the year 1920 to the present, many types of airplanes, birds and animals brought joy to the sender and receiver.

Theresa O’Brien gave the H. D. the following verse to be quoted as typical of the love messages of olden days:


I dare not ask a kiss.

I dare not beg a smile,

Lest having this or that

I might grow proud the while.

No! No! The utmost share of my desire

Shall be only to kiss the air

That lately kissed thee.


Theresa also said, “In 1898, the winter of the big snow, the girls of Robinson and Kokomo received their Valentine greetings in April when the Colorado and Southern Railroad was able to resume operation over Fremont Pass.

“On occasion a male adult who was the recipient of a Valentine greeting opened his mail fearfully, expecting to find a caricature inside which would express an unkind thought or an envious mood,” she added.

Oddly enough in today’s world full of hate, the insulting type of Valentine is passé. They can be found in limited quantities, but it appears that the “kick” which the sender used to feel in mailing them out has gone into history.

Valentines have declared “I Love You” since the third century. Roman mythology has the story of Cupid and his mother, Venus, the goddess of beauty. The naked cherub is still popular today on Valentine messages, depicted with his bow and arrow aimed toward the heart, a traditional token of affection which has survived the centuries.

The smaller Valentines in Theresa’s collection feature puns to get the message across, and this custom is still popular in today’s messages. An example of this is, “You’d butter be my Valentine.”

Love messages were expressed in shy manner, such as:

Here’s a little secret

Promise not to tell

If you like me as I like you

You like me pretty well.

Forget-me-nots and roses gave the meaning, “Fond and true—from my faithful heart to you.”

On the “cold” side—cold cash, that is—many Valentines desired by collectors and being sold by antique dealers carry a price tag of one to two dollars, but choice ones will fetch between $25 to $75. Sachet types may still be found for a dollar, but it is the mechanical kind which carry a high price tag.

Valentines made prior to 1870 are the ones which are bringing high prices. Less expensive are those made between 1870 and 1900. Premium prices are being paid for those made during and prior to the Civil War. White lacy Valentines have sold recently for $3 to $5 each. In particular demand today are Valentines decorated with velvet, silk, feathers, artificial flowers and shells, as well as paper doll Valentines.

The Victorian era featured Valentines made of several parts and housed in handsome boxes.

Magazines of 1905 gave directions for making attractive Valentine frames of cardboard decorated with floral motifs.

And so it is that a lovely lady sends a Valentine message to all her beloved people of Leadville in this year of 1971 by sharing views of them and allowing an interview with her.

Today’s Chuckle


It’s a matter of perspective: When they were happening, “the good old days” were called “these trying times.”

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