A spectacular trove of thousands of valentines and related material—some dating as far back as the late 17th century—has been given to The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, the institution in San Marino, CA., announced Monday. Considered the best private collection of its kind in the world, the Nancy and Henry Rosin Collection of Valentine, Friendship, and Devotional Ephemera contains approximately 12,300 greeting cards, sentimental notes, folk art drawings, and other tokens of affection that trace the evolution of romantic and religious keepsakes made in Europe and North America from 1684 to 1970. The Rosins had given the collection to their son, Bob, who together with his wife, Belle, donated it to The Huntington for safekeeping. "This collection was carefully created by my parents," he said. "I can't think of a better place for it to be, given its historical and educational value."
The Rosin Collection brims with well-preserved paper (and in some cases, vellum or mixed media) materials that range from lacy 18th-century devotional cards, hand-cut by French and German nuns, to elegant Biedermeier-era (1815-1848) greeting cards complete with hand-painted love scenes, gilded embossing, mother-of-pearl ornaments, and silk chiffon. The collection includes cameo-embossed lace paper valentines from England, elaborate three-dimensional and mechanical Victorian paper confections, as well as handmade works of American folk art demonstrating traditional paper-cut techniques (scherenschnitte) and colorful Germanic Fraktur illustrations. Some of the most historically significant items include heartrending Civil War soldiers' valentines with personal notes detailing the hardship of war and longing for home. The Rosin Collection also contains bitingly satiric "vinegar" valentines, dance cards, memory albums, and watch papers (sentimental notes inserted into pocket watches), among other items relating to the history of love and devotion.
"We are profoundly grateful to Bob and Belle Rosin for this invaluable, and truly beautiful collection that was so carefully developed," said Sandra L. Brooke, Avery Director of the Library at The Huntington. "It will dramatically enhance our holdings in several areas to which we are committed—especially 19th century social history and visual culture, and of course, our renowned U.S. Civil War material."
Nancy Rosin is president of the National Valentine Collectors Association, president emerita of the Ephemera Society of America, and a member of the American Antiquarian Society and The Grolier Club. She says collecting valentines has been her "passionate obsession" for 40 years. "My quest to acquire sentimental expressions of love, especially those celebrating Valentine's Day—a significant social event that was enjoyed by all strata of society—grew into a desire to share them with the public," said Rosin. "Bob grew up watching us build this collection piece by piece. I'd long hoped the collection would end up where it would have the most research value and the highest standard of preservation, so it is deeply gratifying to know Bob and Belle have given these works to The Huntington."
The Huntington's collection of historical prints and ephemera was begun by its founder, Henry E. Huntington, about 100 years ago, and has since grown to contain hundreds of thousands of items that support public exhibitions and scholars' research, especially in the areas of British and American cultural history. The Rosin Collection significantly increases the institution's distinction of being one of the leading archives for ephemera studies.
"This is a collection I've been familiar with and admired for many years," said David Mihaly, Jay T. Last Curator of Graphic Arts and Social History at The Huntington. "It is without a doubt the best in private hands in terms of quality and range within its focus—to say nothing of the sheer wonder and delight the items provide. Pull a string and an ingenious cobweb device lifts to reveal a mouse in a trap; unfold a die-cut valentine and watch a majestic carriage spring to life in 3-D; read a witty poem and realize it's a hilarious jab at a Victorian-era politician; look closely at a tiny, centuries-old card and see it was delicately perforated with hundreds of tiny pinpricks, and hand painted so expertly. We certainly will enjoy researching and processing this collection—and hope to plan an exhibition in coming years."
The institution expects to start preserving and cataloguing the Rosin Collection this year, with research access soon to follow.