flux branding

Design History: Victorian Valentines

We love the Victorian puzzle purse. A sweet way to send a special note to the one you admire.

It’s no secret that here at Flux we love design history. Anything can be a doorway into some fascinating design trends– whether it’s old matchbox labels, vintage posters, or ticket stubs, we love digging up ephemera from the past to inspire us today.

victorian valentines
Valentine’s Day is coming up this month, and it has us thinking about Valentine’s cards. While the design history of Valentine’s cards is vast (everything from epic diecuts to beautifully embossed prints, sweet lover’s messages to snarky no-thank you’s), there’s one type of Valentine that especially makes our design-hearts beat: the puzzle purse.

Valentine Pocket Purse

Popularized in the Victorian era, the Puzzle Purse is an interlocking, folded design in which the designer decorates both the outer and inner sections, creating a note and envelope all in one. The practice is throught to have originated in Japan– Tato, flat paper boxes or envelopes, can be dated to Japan’s Heian era (782-1185 CE) and were made using the paper folding technique of tatogami, the precursor of origami. Tato were used by everyone from housewives to businessmen as portable storage for small items such as buttons, pins and needles, clips, or stamps.

folded Victorina Puzzle purse

By the early 1700s in England and Colonial America, the Puzzle Purse began to be used as a means of exchanging romantic messages, with its intricate folds and meaningful symbology of detailed depictions of flowers, birds, vines, and hearts reflective of the beguiling nature of love and courtship. In the mid-17th through mid-18th centuries in Pennsylvania, German immigrants also created a distinctive cursive writing technique called fraktur (“fractured” pen strokes, akin to those used for calligraphy and illuminated manuscripts) to create highly complex Puzzle Purses, love letters (liebesbrief), and envelopes.

foded puzzle purse

We love this idea of “letterlocking”– folding a paper to create it’s own envelope– and also the intricate designs engendered by the format.

Would you send a puzzle purse to your Valentine this year? Send us a note and tell us about it.



Newsletter subscription

Sign up for our monthly newsletter, First Tuesday, for our thoughts on the ever-changing state of the branding world.
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Enjoyed this article? Here are three more to help you!