In my praise of primary sources earlier this week, I shared one of the accounting pages from the papers of 18thc. merchant and landowner John Cadwalader. Today I'm featuring an example that's a lot more fun, though just as revealing about the past: a complicated, hand-drawn liebesbrief, Valentine, or love letter, left.
Although the messages on this love letter are in English, it's firmly in the design traditions of the Germans who settled in Pennsylvania in the 1700s. Drawn and brightly colored on paper, this manuscript-style folk art is called fraktur, after the angular style of the writing that is often part of the design. This liebesbrief includes the bright colors and whimsical designs often featured in fraktur, plus clever folds that open into a four-pointed star. The unfolded letter, lower right, is equally enchanting, and reveals the complicated folds.
Each point of the star has a separate couplet:
My Dearest Dear and blest divine/ I've picture here your heart and mine But Cupid with her Cruel dart/ Has deeply pierced my tender heart And has between us set Across/ Which makes me to lament my loss But I'm in hopes when that is gone/ That both our hearts will be in one
No one today knows who drew this love letter, or for whom it was intended. Still, it's easy to imagine a young woman (or young man: the artist's gender isn't known, either) carefully drawing and writing this piece, neatly coloring the pink hearts and flowers, filling in the background with all those tiny dots, and thinking of the recipient with every stroke of the pen and brush. But was it meant for a faithful sweetheart, or was it a brave first declaration of admiration?
Again, there's no way of knowing. But whoever the recipient was, he or she carefully preserved the liebesbrief - which I'd guess was a very good omen for the sender.
Above: Liebesbrief (Love Letter), Anonymous, c. 1800, Pennsylvania. Collection, The Free Library of Philadelphia.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.