Comic Valentines: Destroying Professional Pride

My butcher don't cast at me such sheeps eyes Oh look at my blushes and hear my deep sighs Just look at the beauty in every feature Of your handsome face, you dear killing creature Oh have you the pluck to offer your heart I can't be a liver, if we two must part So make a joint of me so fine My greasy looking Valentine.

Image from: Norfolk Museums

[Copyright, 1889, by American Press Association.]

We do not wish to be considered irreverent when we say that every saint, like every dog, has his day. If it were not perfectly consistent to mention the dog and the saint in the same breath we don’t believe there would be such an animal extant as the Saint Bernard dog — or at least he would flourish under a different name.

The fourteenth of February belongs to Saint Valentine, and it is quite as natural to send and to receive valentines on this day as it is to set off firecrackers on the Fourth of July, to eat roast turkey on Thanksgiving and to loaf on Labor Day.

As the valentine, correctly speaking, is a love poem, it seems difficult to explain the existence of the popular penny or comic valentine for a cent, which is sent to all sorts and conditions of men and women, not with a view to winning their affection, but as a means of making them acquainted with their defects and shortcoming, and doing it in a manner calculated to destroy their peace of mind and make them unhappy for many days. As a rule they would destroy the professional pride in the bosom of one usually considered a proficient practitioner of his art. The barber, for instance, who shaves you without inflicting pain either with his razor or his information, is informed by a grotesque picture and a vilely constructed verse that his razor is like an oyster knife, and that he should learn to handle it in a manner different from that employed by a mason in the manipulation of a trowel, or a grocer in the act of letting the daylight into a box of sardines with a can opener.

The plumber is another popular target for him who sends the penny valentine, and he is represented as being anything but honest and conscientious. He is shown in the act of smashing boilers and sending in big bills for work that has never been done. The exaggeration of the situation is enough to make even a plumber laugh, even if it is a warm day upon which it is impossible for a pipe to freeze or a boiler to burst. Our plumber has always done his work well and cheap, and we think he should have a pleasant valentine — one that is truthful and calculated to do him justice and make him happy in the knowledge of the fact that his efforts are appreciated at their highest value. But we will address it to the guild, assuming that our plumber is only a fair specimen of this great, important craft:


His heart is sound, his hand is strong,
His touch is sure and true;
Oh, who begrudges him the wealth
That’s but his honest due?

To smash your boiler or your pipe
Or tub he ne’er descends;
He never, never never works
For mercenary ends.

His work’s first class, his bills are small,
His credit’s more than long,
The sunshine of his gracious smile
Is like a breath of song.

We glory in the pleasant sight
That shows him in his prime —
Out sailing in the summer yacht
He earned in winter time.

The tailor is an artist with whom even people endowed with the ordinary instincts of charity have little or no sympathy. He is universally regarded very much as an ogre in a fairy tale; that is, an undesirable creature, in whose bosom the instincts of a monster are ever active. No one has a kind word for him any more than for a pirate or a hackman. Yet we feel it a solemn duty to speak of our tailor as we find him during an experience of a decade:


Here’s a conscientious tailor,
And a tailor great is he,
Fitting merchant, truckman, sailor,
Cop and poet to a “T.”
To the painter and the rector
He gives lots of time to pay,
And he sends no gaunt collector
‘Round to see them every day;
Springing like a catamount
For a little on account.

The experience with the tailor is not of a more unusual nature — in fact, not more of an Arabian night in its way — than the experience we have had with our vegetable peddler. We have dealt with him several years and think he is entitled to a complimentary valentine if any human being is. It is considered the proper thing to assume that an eel is as slippery as a vegetable peddler; that he is the creature that is more to be feared than an architect. Yet we feel bound to say, and we take pleasure in saying, that our vegetable peddler is a charming man to meet, at least when upon his professional chariot, drawn by an old gold steed whose ribs protrude to such an extent that by drawing a stick along them you unconsciously perform what might be facetiously termed an oxtemporaneous xylophone solo. This peddler never fumbles the potatoes in such a way as to make you fancy you are getting more than you are paying for. He shakes them down honestly and does not create a pyramid on top. They run the same size all the way through, and we take pleasure in saying so. And we believe other peddlers are quite as honest and worthy the confidence of the public. We therefore feel that we are doing a noble work in thus addressing:


Your cabbages and turnips,
Your salsify and pumpkins,
Your squashes and tomatoes
Are always prime and fine.
Your peaches and your apples,
Your pears and cauliflowers
Are ever sweet and luscious
And mellow as old wine.
Long may you wave and flourish,
If only for the measure,
The brimming, honest measure
You to your patrons give.
Your measures are unconscious
Of any thick, raised bottoms.
Oh, paragon of peddlers,
Long may you bloom and live
In eighteen carrot rapture,
And spot cash custom capture.

That the comic valentine has come to stay goes without saying. Although beautiful from an economic standpoint, it could be still more beautiful if it but reflected the truth; and it should be truthful to be permanent. What is all this carping nonsense we hear about the milkman? Who originates these would be witty stories, whose mission is to raise a laugh at the expense of this useful public servant, and place his honesty forever within the pale of criticism? Such jokes as saying that it would be more appropriate to decorate his grave with water lilies than milkweeds, and that an artistic as well as proper trademark for him would be a water moccasin and a milk adder, intertwined about a pump handle, should lose their currency at once. We believe our milkman to be as pure in spirit as the cream that floats upon his milk, and if his virtues could be condensed and expressed in one word, that word would be “angel.” It is with a desire to do the right thing by this man and his professional brethren that we have indited the following valentine:


Although the public howling
Upon you loves to jump,
I know your milk is never
Assisted at the pump.

You never fill with water
Your polka dotted beeve
To raise her yielding limit
At orange tinted eve.

Your ways are ever honest,
And as an honest man
I gayly drum your praises
Upon this old milk can;

And trust that fate your cream jug
May fill unto the brim,
And let you like a swallow
The sky of fortune skim.


The Daily Northwestern (Oshkosh, Wisconsin) Feb 13, 1892

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