Backstage Pass to North Dakota History

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How Do I Love Thee: Valentine Ephemera Collection

In general, ephemera collections are not fancy collections. Instead they are composed of “stuff” that was originally produced for immediate consumption, some practical purpose, and/or with no thought to it being saved for any real length of time (much less perpetuity than, say, a book or photograph album). These can include, but are not limited to, greeting cards, business promotional items, flyers and bulletins for groups and organizations, and any 2-D visual materials that might be interesting in an exhibit.

The State Archives’ Ephemera Collection grew mainly out of the processing of a single collection — the Liessman Collection, from a family that kept almost every single piece of paper they encountered. Archivists determined a set of goals to streamline the collection and remove all the extraneous “stuff.” Some of that “stuff” did not fit the goals for the collection but still had value and was interesting, hence the incentive to officially create the Ephemera Collection (No. 11354).

These ephemeral items serve an interesting function for researchers with their vast and fascinating diversity. The documentation they provide about everyday life, particularly that of average men and women from all backgrounds, is extremely valuable for providing context of the societal mores. Sometimes that context it not flattering and espouses an idea that is abhorrent, such as the presumed inferiority of Indigenous people, but it is always important to look at history as it was with warts and all.

In addition, ephemera pieces can have genuine artistic merit and be generally pleasing to the eye, or just be cute and humorous.

Vintage Valentine's Day card with a little girl on the front "I've lost my head over you, Oh please, be my Valentine"

An example of humorous Valentine. SHSND SA 11354.0003.003-4

This is especially relevant in the case of the Valentine’s Day cards within the Ephemera Collection. Most of the cards are not dated formally, but assumptions can be made using other factors and context clues to date them; we have determined a general date range of our card to be circa 1910s thru 1940s. These cards are a wonderful window into the past and great for looking at what was popular romancing behavior, or lines, at the time.

Vintage Valentine's Day card with a Marine and puppy on the front, "Semper fidelis. That's me! Valentine-always faithful!"

Valentine with a Marine theme. Who doesn’t love a guy in uniform with a puppy!?

Vintage Valentine's Day card with a handyman and a walrus on the front

Alice in Wonderland–themed Valentine, alluding to “The Walrus and the Carpenter” poem in Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll, 1871.

There are also a few Disney-inspired cards in the collection. It is interesting to see what was popular at the time, and get a taste of the emergence of mass-produced pop culture. Some of them are just darn cute, too!

Vintage Valentine's Day card with a little girl and boy on the front