Although Valentine's Day and the sending of love messages associated with it have roots in antiquity, the exchange of comic valentines originated in the United States. Sometimes called penny dreadfuls, these inexpensive valentines were usually printed on cheap paper in vibrant colors. Verses made fun of old maids, teachers, and others as well as young lovers. These valentines were particularly popular from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s and are still available today along with traditional, sentimental greetings.
The comic valentine has been a part of Valentine's Day from its first observances in Nebraska. A columnist for The Western Scot, published in Omaha, on February 20, 1910, complained: "Some smart Alec with a crazy bug in his ear sends me a postal card on St. Valentine's Day and I'd like right well to meet him and give him a piece of my mind. No doubt he thinks himself exceedingly smart. The postal card has an old male fool with an even more ancient female fool sitting cheek by jowl cooing to each other and underneath are the mediocre lines here attached, which of course my friend thinks are very smart: 'Oh, come to me arms, Me swate darlin' dear, Loike a wee turtle dove, Shure 'll coo in your ear, An' whisper, be mine--Me own Valentine.'"
Other comic valentines were more aggressive. The Franklin Sentinel of February 14, 1896, had this to say about them: "All are offensive. They are divided broadly into two classes. . . 'Hit-em-Hards' and the 'Long Jokers.' By the rules of ordinary social courtesy a person may reply to a Long Joker with a club; but if he gets a Hit-em-Hard, he takes down the old musket from the wall.
"The enormous sale of these things proves they must fill a longing in the human heart. The two sexes feel they want them about equally. Just as many are printed for men as for women. . . . Just how badly you have to hate to insult a person pictorially on the 14th of February, I am unable to state. But there must be a good many million people in this country who could tell from their personal experience."