Thursday, April 16, 2015

A Charming Hand-Drawn Love Letter, c. 1800

Thursday, April 16, 2015
Isabella reporting,

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.


Lady Smatter said...

That is my absolute favorite puzzle purse love token! I did some research on this piece and made a reproduction for Valentine's Day this year. The second image here shows not an "envelope", but another view of the same piece of paper unfolded. It's quite a complex and clever design, as I learned when I made my reproduction.
You can see my analysis of this piece (and two other similar artefacts) here: 3 Love Tokens)
And my reproduction here:My Dear This Heart.

Yve said...

Yes, I would say the same thing, the lower image is of the card flattened out showing how the folds work. This is enchanting, I've never heard of these before... off to make one right now... although the nearest thing I have to a beloved right now is my cat!

Rose Anne said...

Just gorgeous. I would love to learn how to recreate these. Off to google!

Karen Anne said...

I think the center in the first photo must also open up.

Karen Anne said...

It looks a lot like an origami waterlily.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Lady Smatter - You are completely right about the second image showing not an envelope, but the unfolded piece. Don't know what I was thinking, esp. since it's clearly identified as such on the FLP site (not to mention that envelopes weren't yet in use in 1800.) Chalk it up to blog-writing done too late at night. Thank you for the catch, and I've corrected accordingly. :)

padutchchick said...

I'm actually not sure if this is Pennsylvania German, and I'm inclined to think it's not. It is part of the larger fraktur collection at the Free Library, but there are some Anglo-American pieces in that collection. The Quakers were fond of these sorts of romantic forms.

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