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HISTORY LIVES: Handmade Valentine


Henry Hohlbain (1788-1877), of New Britain Township, created this cutout valentine in 1812. It is dedicated to his valentine and childhood sweetheart Martha Thomas (1795-1868). The handmade valentine is very intricate; to achieve such a cutout, great skill with sharp scissors was needed. The spiral text reads, “This 14 day of February it was my lot for to be Merry. Lots were cast and you I drew, and Fortune says it must be true, As sure as the grapes grow on the vine, I drew you for my Valentine. I drew you from among the rest, the reasons was I loved you best, the rose is red, the leaves are green, the days are past that we have seen, but better Days I hope to see, if you and I can but Agree.”

Drawing lots is an old Valentine’s Day custom. Participants would draw lots, which were names written on small slips of paper, and the name you pulled was your valentine for the day.

Henry and Martha apparently “agreed” as they were married on May 28, 1812. The couple had five children — Elvira, Mary, Susanna, Eliza and James — was together for 56 years, and was buried in the New Britain Baptist Cemetery.

Note: In 2019 the Spruance Library presented a display on the history of valentines in America. Samples ranged from handmade greetings of the early 1800s to contemporary mass-produced cards. Samples can be seen in the archival collection of the Bucks County Historical Society at


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