Valentines' Cards with a sour twist go on display in Whitby as curator dubs them "the modern equivalent of trolling"

Many this morning will have been waiting anxiously for a Valentine’s Day card to drop through the letterbox.

But Victorians marking the day had more cause for anxiety, a new exhibition in Whitby has revealed.

A selection of ‘Vinegar Valentines’ – cards you would definitely not wish to receive from an admirer – are on display at the town’s museum, in Pannett Park.

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The cards, which the exhibition’s curator has dubbed “the modern equivalent of social media trolling” feature unflattering portraits designed to offend the recipient, as well as verses written to make clear that the last thing the sender would want was for them to be their Valentine.

The cards feature unflattering portraits designed to offend the recipientThe cards feature unflattering portraits designed to offend the recipient
The cards feature unflattering portraits designed to offend the recipient
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Vinegar Valentines were first sent around the 1830s, but their popularity stretched across decades, the exhibition’s curator Rebecca Tucker explained.

She said: “They ran for about 100 years. All the ones we have are mid-Victorian, when they were at their most popular.

“They were sent if someone’s romantic advances weren’t reciprocated, so you’d have the traditional Valentine’s card with flowers and hearts and flourishes – but if you weren’t interested you could send a Vinegar Valentine.

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“They’d be quite insulting and often have grotesque caricatures and cruel rhymes which I think of as being emotionally damaging.

“I think of it as being like the Victorian equivalent of trolling.”

The cards were gathering dust in the archives of Whitby Museum when Ms Tucker, who is also the curator of the Museum of Whitby Jet, found them.

“I think it’s incredible any of them survived,” she said.

“Because it’s the sort of thing that if you received it, you’d just throw it straight on the fire.

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“I think that this is a collection of ones that were never used. You do understand why they’re so rare. They’re not attractive to look at – you certainly wouldn’t put it on your wall! It’s a quirky little period of social history.

“It might have been funny for the sender but never that funny for the receiver.

“These usually depict pictures of gossips, old maids, bachelors and drunks – it would highlight everyone’s shortcomings.

“The worst part about it was they were sent anonymously, the receiver didn’t know who hated him or her.

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“And pre 1840, the receiver had to pay for the postage – you were paying for the privilege of being abused!

“The cards we have all depict women, but men were targeted as well. There were cards targeted at men who were quite miserly, or drunks.”

The exhibition comes as Whitby Museum reopened following a refresh over the winter months. A new shop area has been opened in the front of the museum, and the cafe has been renovated.

The museum’s Normanby rooms for events and lectures has also been divided into two for multiple events to happen at once.

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