Vinegar Valentines Were the Victorian Era’s Brilliant Way of Telling Unwanted Suitors to Go Away

Nazarevich/iStock via Getty Images
Nazarevich/iStock via Getty Images

For decades, Valentine’s Day has given secret admirers an opportunity to confess their love without fear of direct rejection. In the 19th century, it was also perfect for doing the exact opposite: Telling tenacious suitors to leave you alone.

As Smithsonian reports, the Victorian era gave rise to the tradition of sending “vinegar valentines,” scathing, sometimes anonymous cards that revealed people’s usually unspeakable feelings about each other’s disgraceful qualities. Unlike perfume-spritzed Valentines, these weren’t actually doused in vinegar—but the caricature-like illustrations and pithy poems were still enough to make you wrinkle your nose.

vinegar valentine shows woman throwing water on suitor
Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

One card from the 1870s depicts a grinning woman tossing a bucket of water on a dapper man with the message “It says as plain as it can say / Old fellow you’d best stop away.” Another from the same time shows a red-eyed snake in a dress coat and top hat, paired with this rather venomous poem:

I’m not attracted by your glitter
For well I know how very bitter
My life would be, if I should take,
You for my spouse, a rattlesnake.
Oh no, I’d not accept the ring
Or evermore ’twould prove a sting.

According to Dr. Annebella Pollen, a lecturer at the University of Brighton, the mass-produced cards were popular in the U.S. and the UK from the 1840s to the early 1900s, and they weren’t only for spurning advances.

“You could send them to your neighbors, friends, or enemies,” she told Collectors Weekly. “You could send them to people you thought were too ugly or fat, who drank too much, or people acting above their station. There was a card for pretty much every social ailment.”

While some of them poked fun at people for relatively trivial qualities like baldness, vanity, or tone-deafness, other cards criticized people for failing to stick to social norms—men, for example, who cared for their children, or academic women who neglected their appearances.

vinegar valentine shows man caring for baby
Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

vinegar valentine shows woman reading
Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

All things considered, it’s definitely good that the trend of telling people to change their behavior by sending them anonymous, vaguely threatening greeting cards has died out. But if you need to give a suitor or two a heavy-handed hint this February 14, there are still some vintage vinegar valentines available on eBay.

[h/t Smithsonian]

Wayfair’s Fourth of July Clearance Sale Takes Up to 60 Percent Off Grills and Outdoor Furniture


This Fourth of July, Wayfair is making sure you can turn your backyard into an oasis while keeping your bank account intact with a clearance sale that features savings of up to 60 percent on essentials like chairs, hammocks, games, and grills. Take a look at some of the highlights below.

Outdoor Furniture

Brisbane bench from Wayfair

- Jericho 9-Foot Market Umbrella $92 (Save 15 percent)
- Woodstock Patio Chairs (Set of Two) $310 (Save 54 percent)
- Brisbane Wooden Storage Bench $243 (Save 62 percent)
- Kordell Nine-Piece Rattan Sectional Seating Group with Cushions $1800 (Save 27 percent)
- Nelsonville 12-Piece Multiple Chairs Seating Group $1860 (Save 56 percent)
- Collingswood Three-Piece Seating Group with Cushions $410 (Save 33 percent)

Grills and Accessories

Dyna-Glo electric smoker.

- Spirit® II E-310 Gas Grill $479 (Save 17 percent)
- Portable Three-Burner Propane Gas Grill $104 (Save 20 percent)
- Digital Bluetooth Electric Smoker $224 (Save 25 percent)
- Cuisinart Grilling Tool Set $38 (Save 5 percent)

Outdoor games

American flag cornhole game.

- American Flag Cornhole Board $57 (Save 19 percent)
- Giant Four in a Row Game $30 (Save 6 percent)
- Giant Jenga Game $119 (Save 30 percent)

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

5 Ways to Keep Your Dog Calm on the Fourth of July

iStock/Getty Images Plus/melissabrock1
iStock/Getty Images Plus/melissabrock1

The Fourth of July can be rough for dogs. Fireworks displays light up their senses with unfamiliar noises, flashes, and smells, and parties flood their homes with strange guests who may invade the rooms they usually have as private retreats. And when distressed dogs escape, howl, or thrash around the house, Independence Day can quickly become a nightmare for their owners, too. To minimize Fido's stress this holiday, we spoke to some dog experts to discover the best ways to keep your canine calm on the Fourth of July.

1. Exercise Your Dog

Anthony Newman, the dog whisperer who runs New York City's Calm Energy Dog Training, says that exercise is a great way to help your dog let off some nervous energy. "Whenever Fido is going to be neglected for an extended period of time, or around any stressful stimuli, it always helps to tire him out just before—and even during the night if you can," Newman says. "As the saying goes, a tired dog is a good dog! He'll be calmer, happier, and more peaceful."

2. Keep Your Dog Indoors

Dr. Stephanie Liff, head veterinarian at Pure Paws Veterinary Care, says the best place to keep your pet during a fireworks show is inside and away from the windows. "If the pet is very scared, an escape-proof crate or a sound-insulated room, such as an internal bathroom, may help the pet to feel more secure," Liff tells Mental Floss. "If you cannot keep your pet inside, make sure that the pet is prevented from escape (monitor all exits and tell guests to monitor your pet)."

3. Socialize Your Dog

While your dog may feel more secure in a room away from all the noise, Newman points out that keeping your dog isolated in another room for too long can be stressful for your pet. "Release his curiosity and let him in on the fun, to run around and play with both two-legged as well as four-legged guests," Newman says. "Then back to his obedient room, bed, car, crate, or spot. Rinse and repeat as needed throughout the night."

4. Take Control of Your Dog

According to Newman, the best way to keep your dog calm during the chaos of July 4th is to stay in charge. "If your dog winces, shivers, and runs away at loud noises, the last thing he wants is to feel like nobody else is looking out for him," Newman says. Don't let your dog run rampant around the house or follow him around trying to soothe him. Instead, Newman says it's important to "take control by attaching a super-light leash that you can grab and lead him whenever you need."

5. Explore Medicating Your Dog

In extreme cases of nervousness, Liff says that you should talk to your vet about medication to sedate your dog.