While the Cartier “Love” bracelet may be the most recognizable symbol of affection for some this Valentine’s Day, the world of antiques collecting is filled with much richer offerings. For those seeking a more unusual gift, the small booklet The Heart of the Matter: Sentimental Works on Paper by Nineteenth-Century Americans, recently published by dealers David A. Schorsch and Eileen M. Smiles, presents some expressive alternatives, and they are all available for purchase.
Titled: “Love Knot” and inscribed in script lettering throughout the mze: “True love is a precious treasure laughing keeping still together… in one bliss in either never breaking ever bending this is around.. This is love / This is love worth commending / Still beginning never ending like a lovers knot… / …in and out whose every angle move and move both still entangle keep a measure still in moving never false but always loving twining arms each anything keeps / each partaking bliss true…”
Inscribed in ink: “To: / Miss Sarah B— / Accept this token / Twas formed for thee. / My hands hath it entwined. / As a token of friendship / let it be. — / Impressed upon thy mind.- / J.H.J” and on verso “Friendship’s Offering- / August.. / 1837.—”
Inscribed in ink: “To my much / Esteemed / Friend / Miss Randall” and “Oft in sender recollection / Call to mind my absent friend / Cherish for that affection / Which I trust will never end”
Inscribed on verso of herats in pencil: “Mrs. C. Smith”
Inscribed in in on verso: “Please accept this as a token of my friendship” and “Maria E. Tuffts”
Inscribed in ink: “Betsey” together with a note inscribed in ink: “Forget me not, my charming friend, / Till life’s delusive dream shall end; / never will thy image will I part, / But press it over in my heart: / And should there end more happy be / O, then, just breathe a sigh for me / Hannah Phipps. / Miss Betsey Peese”
Most are the charming cut and woven paper tokens, known as heart-and-hand or heart-in-hand pieces, but there is also a number of engaging ink and watercolor drawings filled with hearts, flowers, and paired birds. The beautiful handmade heart-and-hand pieces often incorporate ribbon, fabric, and plaited human hair, and were constructed to form hands, hearts, puzzles, and pockets that are as delightful as they are touching. Dating from about 1820 to 1870, each bears an intimate inscription of love, friendship, or memory, and while each is one-of-a-kind, the unifying imagery and poetic sentiments document the rich historical context of human bonds.
In the booklet’s introduction, Schorsch recalls the first heart-and-hand cutwork piece he bought and sold as a teenager, which was proudly advertised in the August 1982 issue of The Magazine ANTIQUES. He says, “Although it was the purity of the graphics that had initially drawn me to these pieces, in the intervening years I have become equally fascinated by the highly personal messages contained within their imagery.”
More examples of nineteenth-century love tokens can be seen in the extraordinary catalogue Expressions of Innocence and Eloquence: Selections from the Jane Katcher Collection of Americana, published by Yale in 2007, which Schorsch co-edited and which includes contributions from other leading experts, including Smiles.