Allan Blackburn column

Well, unless you’ve been walking around with your eyes shut you can’t help but see that the shops have gone Valentine crazy.

It seems everywhere you turn its cards, hearts and flowers and you’d be forgiven for thinking that traditional customs like Valentine’s Day have been over commercialised.

However, you might be surprised to know that, in fact, the exchanging of love tokens and cards was even more popular with the Victorians than it is today.

St Valentine was the friend and patron of lovers and on his day, February 14, lovers were chosen and tokens of love exchanged.

By the 17th Century, the tradition was firmly established and Samuel Pepys makes reference to it in his diary of 1662.

Gifts could be quite expensive and even married women could receive silk gloves or valuable jewellery.

Thankfully, the valentine card eventually replaced these expensive gifts, and we’ll look more at the Valentine card next week.

The tradition of giving love tokens is centuries old and was particularly prevalent amongst rural and maritime communities. Love tokens could be given at any time, not just Valentine’s Day.

Perhaps the earliest British love tokens are wooden love spoons. This tradition originated in 17th century Wales and was the perfect way for the mostly illiterate, young rustic men to convey their love.

Shoes too had great significance to those in love and the connection between luck, love and marriage continues today.

Shoe-shaped love tokens were therefore quite common. These could be snuff boxes, pin cushions or any number of things.

Often made of wood, these shoes were often given as a wedding present: In one would be a piece of coal and in the other a sugar cube, ensuring that the newlyweds would always enjoy sweetness and warmth. A set of snuff box shoes may be worth as much as £300.

Jewellery, especially posy rings (a shortening of “poesy” or poetry), was the ultimate lover’s gift. Such posy rings have a line of verse engraved on the inside and are usually made of gold. Old (some date back to the 12th century) posy rings are quite rare. For the Victorians, rings or lockets with a lock of hair enclosed were ideally intimate presents and heart shaped lockets continue in popularity today.