A St Valentines Day Party
in 1896 Style!

The following article describing how to host a party for St Valentines Day was published in Harper’s Bazaar in 1896. It illustrates how the Victorians loved going all out for their parties and they did not miss the opportunity to throw a little intrigue into it if they could! See how they accomplished it.

For St Valentines Day

For the hostess whose laudable ambition it is to be original in her entertainments, the following suggestion is made by one who can speak from personal experience of its success.

Issue your St Valentines invitations for what appears to be a simple card party, although the date, in the corner, “February the fourteenth, St Valentine’s day,” tells the story to those who can understand.

Seating for St Valentines Day

On the appointed evening the guests draw for partners by means of card-board hearts, appropriately decorated, and seat themselves at the tables scattered the length of the parlors. At this stage it is discovered that there is an odd couple over, and much quiet wonderment is caused that an experienced a hostess as Mrs. Blank should not have foreseen and avoided such a calamity. But her smiling face is imperturbable, and at the sound of a bell the game begins.

A Very Appropriate St Valentine's Day Game

It is hearts, of course, on this day dedicated to King Cupid, and the playing progresses very smoothly. But when the bell announces that one of the two couples at the head table has won, and every one rises and proceeds to change tables – but not partners – the real reason for the existence of the odd couple is at last apparent.

What Could This Be?

At the extreme end of the long parlors, back of the foot table, is a strange object which every one has noticed, but no one has understood. It seems to be a bower of lace curtains decked with flowers and smilax, and the thin curtain which hangs before the entrance is drawn back just enough to disclose two easy-chairs within and a table.

As the defeated couple are driven from the head table, at the end of the first game, they are not directed to the foot table, as is usually the case, but into this little retreat, while the odd couple who occupied it before take their place in the game. There is much laughter and wonderment as they vanish and the filmy lace curtains are let fall.

But the smiles are not all on one side; for while the game goes on, the two who are left ot discover that their pretty prison has its compensations, after all. They can see all that is going on outside, and have plenty of quiet fun watching the tide of the game whirl past them, and in refreshing themselves with the bonbons and salted almonds which stand invitingly near. The table is found spread for tea with the hostess’s daintiest trifles, and the cup of cheer which the fair prisoner proceeds to make for her companion under that softly shaded lamp may well be worth remembering.

But this is not all. A tray laden with tiny sealed envelopes stands near, from which each is to choose for the other a valentine. Inside is some quotation, appropriate to the day — the more ridiculous and inane the sentiment the funnier — and they are usually opened and read amid much laughter. They also find a pile of gay snapping-crackers, such as children love, to one of each is entitled. But they must be chosen with care, inasmuch as the paper cap contained within must be worn for the rest of the evening as a souvenir of their visit.

No wonder the players outside cast envious glances towards the mysterious flower-hung bower from which such laughter comes! And no wonder the “odd couple” — poor things! — hear the sound of the bell with smothered regret, and reluctantly leave their cozy corner for their place in the game! They emerge, cap-crowned and smiling, to seat themselves at the foot table — changing partners now — while the two defeated at the head table take their turn at sounding the mysteries of Cupid’s Cave.

After that it is only a question of who shall reach the head-table first, and it is remarkable with what sudden philosophy every one appears to accept defeat there — defeat with its penalties. And as couple after couple emerge from the charmed spot, and the room blossoms with gay tissue-paper headdresses, the fun increases, and the cards become but a secondary consideration. Of course, it is more of a success where the players are all well acquainted, but it cannot fail anywhere.

St Valentines Day Refreshments

As to St Valentines Day refreshments, they would naturally be made as appropriate as possible to the day. The cream should be moulded in the form of hearts, and the coffee served in the heart-shaped cups so fashionable just now. The cake should be baked in small heart-shaped tins.

St Valentine Day Gifts

In prizes the selection is manifold. One of the silver heart-shaped photograph-frames, for sale everywhere, would be acceptable, or, better still, one, not so easily found, with a rim of glittering rhinestones, ready to encircle the dearest face in the world by and by.

A gentleman would also appreciate a heart-shaped ash-tray, or a tiny white enamel pin in the form of a true-lover’s knot. For the beauty-loving girl who carries off the evening’s honors there is the heart-shaped china tray for pins, painted by hand with blue love-knots and roses; or a hand-mirror is a heart-shaped frame; or an exquisitely frail cup and saucer, with tiny frolicking Cupids, to grace her five-o’clock tea table and fill the soul of some big clumsy-fingered man with despair.

If prizes so expensive are not procurable or desirable for any reason, many dainty things can be fashioned by the hostess’s skilful fingers that would perhaps be even more acceptable as a piece of her own work. Frames need not be of silver to be beautiful. A pasteboard heart may be covered with a bit of figured silk, or, better still, linen embroidery in tiny sprays and bows of ribbon. With a small knowledge of painting, a linen frame may be prettily and quickly decorated in oil, or a paper one, in water-color.

Three small hearts, fastened one above and other on ribbon, would never come amiss in these days of multitudinous photographs, or two mounted against card-board rests, to stand side by side, with two faces that even in though must not be separated. An engagement-book or guest-book of heart-shaped paper, tied with ribbons and decorated, may be easily made, or a heart-shaped pin-cushion, silk-covered, and as wonderfully befrilled and beribboned as any feminine heart could desire.

A Victorian St Valentines Day "Booby Prize!"

As to the consolation prizes (booby prizes being things of the past nowadays), a large valentine, as elaborate in its wealth of cherubs and paper lace as can be procured, would be a graceful compliment, while to the other unfortunate, if two consolation prizes are given, might be presented a small bouquet of flowers, with the following couplet on the card:

“Never mind if you luck was bad,
    Accept these posies, and don’t be sad.”

“We like you just as well, you know,
    And these little blossoms will tell you so.”

In the above I have merely outline a plan, which is capable of countless changes and modifications.


Note: This article on St Valentine's Day festivities of 1896 was edited for use on this site.



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