Not unlike the bookstores of today, booksellers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries supplemented their book, magazine, and newspaper offerings with a wide assortment of stationery and “fancy goods,” such as leather products, toys, home decor items, novelties, giftware, and greeting cards.
In the last category, Valentine’s Day presented a major opportunity to attract customers into the store. Booksellers’ ads competed with each other in local papers, typically exclaiming something like “Valentines! Valentines! Time is drawing near!” and often emphasizing the “chaste” and “tasteful” nature of their selections. Some offered poems as a way of standing out:
Books and Notions, the leading industry periodical for the Canadian book trade in the mid-1880s to mid-1890s, regularly dispensed advice about when and how booksellers and stationers should display cards—a few days before, not after, the holiday, and “the design which has not before been seen will be the best appreciated” (1).
The publication also previewed the latest trends in Valentine’s Day cards, as here:
Taste has run considerably in the direction of lace goods, and the grotesque element has been largely neglected. Prices run generally in the regions of low figures, from one cent to twenty-five, although costly ones are to be had, up to $10. (2)
Dutton, the Toronto News Company, and McLoughlin Bros. were some of the greeting card companies featured in these articles, and this Books and Notions ad from McLoughlin indicates the variety of cards available:
A selection of Victorian-era lace Valentines, the likes of which were displayed by many of our pioneer BC book and stationery stores, can be seen in the Vintage Valentine Museum.
(1) “Advice to English Stationers,” Books and Notions (April 1885): 138.
(2) “Trade Chat,” Books and Notions (February 1890): 14.