Vintage Toronto Ads: A Valentine’s Day Sampler

Valentine’s Day

Originally published on Torontoist on February 11, 2015.

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The Globe, February 8, 1928.

Valentine’s Day: a time to demonstrate one’s appreciation for others, to profess one’s love, and to write florid verse and purple prose in the name of Cupid. Celebrating love on February 14 (or surrounding days, if it fell on Sunday) has been a long, profitable tradition for Torontonians.

One of the earliest commentaries we found was a Globe editorial published in 1858. The elevated prose that publisher George Brown and his writers used forces modern readers to refer to a dictionary. For example, booksellers offering Valentine’s Day stationery were “bibliopoles,” a term we’re waiting for an enterprising young entrepreneur to use any day now. A sample of the Globe’s thoughts:

Our bibliopoles have right diligently done their part to secure the due celebration of the mysteries pertaining to this time-honoured festival. For weeks have the counters and windows of their marts have been profusely garnished with amatory missives, exhibiting all the canonical adornments peculiar to such documents. Dan Cupid there drives teems of harnessed doves, as he was wont to do when “our auld cloak was new,” and smirking couples wend their way “ankle deep in flowers” towards rural churches climaxed with tiny spires suggestive of toothpicks.

20150211flowersThe Globe, February 12, 1931.

By 1862, Toronto’s post office processed 3,500 valentines on February 14. Though rumours suggested sending greetings was passé, stationers reported strong sales, especially among high-end products. “Those of a comic character were sold in large quantities, but the great demand was for those with embossed edges, varying from a quarter to five dollars,” the Globe observed. “The post office was crowded with the fair sex all day; and the smiles on their faces, as they left, showed that their swains had generally done the proper thing.”

During the Victorian era, the degeneration of valentines into cards with grotesque, insensitive jokes was heavily criticized. Cheaper cards replaced sentiment with insults and, the Globe reported in 1889, “the effect upon the unfortunate receiver must be like that of a quart of dishwater thrown from some unseen window.” A valentine sent to a pharmacist might insinuate he was a quack, while a young woman might receive a card inferring she had loose morals. “It is not good even for children to be the carriers of insults the full meaning of which they do not understand.”

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The Globe, February 10, 1933.

Sentimentality was back in fashion when the Great Depression hit. As the economy tanked, caring thoughts and tender reassurances written in valentines provided solace. Around 150,000 valentines were distributed by Toronto mail carriers on Valentine’s Day 1930. The Globe glimpsed the feeling around the city that year:

Sweethearts are giving expressions to their affection in generous measure today and they are “saying it” with valentines. Perchance it is but a dainty card or folder, charmingly embellished with lace and cupids and intriguing bits of verse, and again the valentine may take the form of a basket of red roses or heart-shaped boxes of candies. Twilight last evening fell upon a city seething with excitement akin to that one finds on Christmas Eve, with book stores, candy shops, and florists crowded with young men with dreamy eyes, and thoughtful husbands.

Additional material from the February 13, 1858, February 15, 1862, February 14, 1889, and February 14, 1930 editions of the Globe.

Valentine’s Day ’54

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Toronto Star, February 12, 1954.

Valentine’s Day is nearly upon us, a day of happy lovers and happier chocolate purveyors. Back in 1954, two of the city’s larger candy chains filled the newspapers with ads showing off their sweet suggestions. Beyond wolfing down bonbons, what else could sweethearts do that year?

There was the option of more food. Culinary columnists provided their ideas for suitable meals and treats for lovebirds to make at home, which would have helpful in 1954 as Valentine’s Day fell on a Sunday, a day when entertainment options outside the home were limited. The Telegram proposed a full buffet consisting of baked Virginia ham, sweet potato casserole, tossed salad, French bread, cranberry/celery salad, iced relishes, and Cherries Jubilee with ice cream. This spread may have been a plot to fill up diners so much that they wouldn’t be in the mood for any monkey business later on. Margaret Carr of the Toronto Star offered up a strawberry-almond mould loaded with gelatin, ladyfingers, and “frills of whipped cream” that may have stimulated a few lovers. The Globe and Mail determined that a one-bowl orange cake was appropriate, as long as one mixed the batter with six hundred spoon strokes—three hundred before the eggs were added, three hundred after. One stroke too many and both the cake and the romance would be ruined.

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The Telegram, February 11, 1954.

If you were unable to come up with a poem to deliver to your Valentine, editorial pages came to the rescue, especially if you were as negligent in delivering your wishes as the protagonist of the Star’s offering, Len G. Selle’s Valentine:

Oh, lovely girl who reads this verse
Think not I am unwise;
I know the softness of your hair
The languer in your eyes.
The laughter of your “rosebud mouth”
And “teeth like pearls”—I guess;
It just remains, my love, for you
To send me your address.

Ah, what a novel scheme this is
To win a Valentine,
To advertise my heart’s desire
At nothing flat a line?
But breathing on my shoulder
Is my last important date…
Alas, this little Valentine
Is twenty years too late!

At the University of Toronto, University College co-eds celebrated by re-enacting Valentine rituals from 1754. These included pinning bay leaves on pillows to ensure any sweethearts dreamed of would be yours within a year, a performance of a play that used creepy masks, and writing names of suitors on slips of paper, rolling them in clay, and dropping them in a jar of water, with the first to float indicating the lucky man.
Modern rituals were the focus of the Telegram’s “Teen Talk” column, where Cynthia Williams offered advice:

Are you trying to woo and win the lady of your choice? Are you trying to get rid of a dope who has been stalking your steps for the past six months? Now’s your chance! Ready-made! But here’s a pointer, boys, if you do want to be popular. The girl, or girls, in your life might not be expecting a card, but believe me, you’ll be number one boy if you remember to send one! And girls, I did get a few of the boys to admit that they were kind of flattered if they got cards, even unsigned ones, that piqued their curiosity!

No mention was made of what a small gift of chocolates could do.

Additional material from the February 11, 1954 and February 12, 1954 editions of the Globe and Mail, the February 13, 1954 edition of the Telegram, and the February 9, 1954 and February 13, 1954 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Two of the recipes mentioned in this story…

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Toronto Star, February 9, 1954.

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Globe and Mail, February 12, 1954.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Valentine’s Day ’60

Originally published on Torontoist on February 9, 2010.

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Globe and Mail, February 12, 1960.

Valentine’s Day is less than a week away—have you selected a special card, a heart-shaped trinket, or a generic box of chocolates yet? Stereotypical gifts to suit every degree of thoughtfulness, or lack of that, were much the same in 1960 as they are now, whether you shopped at tonier shops in Yorkville or the neighbourhood five-and-dime.

This ad for Yorkville businesses included in ultra-fine print a list of merchants where shoppers could discover the BEST gift. Among the businesses still in the neighbourhood, even if their Yorkville locations have changed or have shifted south along Yonge Street, are Bay Bloor Radio, Birks, Curry’s Art Supplies, Grand & Toy, Roberts Gallery, and Stollery’s.

If a gift didn’t work, the way to a valentine’s heart might have been through his or her stomach. The Star’s Margaret Carr suggested a traditional full-course meal. “Maybe I’m old-fashioned,” Carr wrote, “but I’m all in favour of the hearts-and-flowers type of day…So, what better valentine than a dream of a dinner for two, with soft lights and soft music? Even without any flowery verses, he should get the idea!” On the menu: veal scallopini, buttered asparagus, hot rolls, celery curls, cherry gelatine salad on lettuce, ice cream in maraschino cherry pastry shells, and coffee. If this meal didn’t produce the desired results, the chef could use Carr’s ready-made reply: “Roses are red, the salad is too, if this food doesn’t send you, nuts to you!”

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Toronto Star, February 10, 1960.

While newspaper ads for Kresge’s and other retailers highlighted their selection of traditional boxed valentines, they didn’t mention whether they carried trendy “sick” cards. Seen as “contemporary” valentines for “sophisticated” people (or at least an excuse for the reporter to use air quotes), these cards ditched the traditional for quick insults. One example: a card with a lovely peacock on the front with the text “There’s something about you that reminds me of a bird…” The punchline inside? “…Your brain!” According to Toronto psychologist Dr. David A. Stewart, the cards were a cynical reaction by the “cool set” against use of traditional emotions like love in advertising campaigns. “It reveals a desire to get away from the traditional emotional expressions. It’s an affectation of coolness,” he told the Star. “Friendship is trite and corny, but we all appreciate it. We are living in a consumers’ goods society and we’re constantly exploited. It’s a little thing to sit down and write a note to a friend that would be more appreciated. But we’re in a hurry and use the printed cards.” Stewart predicted that the cards, which were popular in urban areas but not among the rural set, would soon die out in favour of traditional expressions of love.

Perhaps the popularity of “sick” cards inspired this piece of verse sent to the Star by Wilma M. Coutts of Durham, Ontario:

We’ve seen some classy valentines
Around here in our day,
Festooned with satin hearts and lace
And perfumed with sachet.
The valentines that we get now
Would make an artist wince,
Lop-sided hearts and wobbly darts—
Bedaubed with crayon prints.
These funny, funny valentines
Designed by someone small,
These are the ones we put away
And treasure most of all.

Additional material from the February 10, February 12, and February 13, 1960, editions of the Toronto Star.