Dundee museum pays tribute to famous Scottish publisher with free exhibition
Valentine’s is a word synonymous with greetings, it’s not just a top sending occasion but also the name of one of the most well-known card and postcard publishers in UK history.
And, thanks to the just-opened Sincerely, Valentines – From Postcards To Greetings Cards exhibition at the V&A in Dundee, everyone can discover the story behind the publisher that ran for almost 165 years and became the city’s largest employer.
Known for popularising the holiday postcard, Valentine & Sons was Scotland’s most pioneering and successful commercial photography company, with its history really starting in 1851 when James Valentine added portraits to his already-established business engraving, printing and supplying business stationery. He swiftly added picture postcards before moving into the expanding greeting card industry with Valentines Of Dundee becoming a widely-known card brand.
Andrew Valentine, who headed up the company for many years and was a well-known figure in the greeting card industry, said: “As the last member of the Valentine family who worked in Valentine & Sons, it’s wonderful to be able to help to celebrate the major contribution the company made in both their pioneering work in photography and design, and their proud record as a major employer in Dundee.
“It charts the history and achievements of Valentine’s from its founding in 1825 by my great-great-great grandfather, right through to its final closure by Hallmark in 1994.
“I am the sixth generation, but the Sincerely, Valentines exhibition is about the skill of the earlier five generations who gave all their working lives to the company, and the dedication of a very loyal workforce. Without them, none of the worldwide success of the company would have been possible.”
Developed in collaboration with the University Of St Andrews and supported by the People’s Postcode Lottery, the new exhibition is a partnership between V&A Dundee and curatorial practice Panel that uncovers Valentine’s compelling design story. It’s free to visit and runs until January 2023.
With the founding family’s support, and following two public call-outs, more than 40 families with company connections came forward to contribute to the exhibition which celebrates the workforce, design process and output.
Andrew was involved with the GCA and its predecessor the GCCA for many years, first with the family business where he was vice-president before leaving to found Andrew Valentine Ltd, which were taken over by Hallmark and American Greetings respectively, then with Valentine Marketing which closed in 2012.
The company moved into greeting cards in a big way in the 1960s, stopping publishing postcards in 1970 after the business was taken over by Waddingtons in 1963. It was then sold to Hallmark Cards in 1980, and the association with Dundee ended with the factory closure in 1994.
Andrew added: “My brother Malcolm and I decided several years ago that the achievements of the company had never been properly recognised. Jute, jam and journalism have all quite rightly been given their place as major contributors to Dundee, but we believed we also deserved our place and were determined to see that happen.
“Sadly Malcolm died in 2016, and it was not until two years later that I approached the V&A Dundee team with a view to mounting a major exhibition, backed by the Valentine Photographic Archive which is preserved by the St Andrews University Library.
“Right from that very first meeting, the enthusiasm of the entire team has made this an extremely rewarding project in which to be involved. Sincerely, Valentines is the result of great help and support by many people. My one regret is that the earlier members of the family and the workforce are not here to see Valentine & Sons recorded in such a professional way.”
Central to the exhibition is new work from designer Maeve Redmond who has created a series of oversized postcards exploring the print process and the culture of mass production utilising the vast Valentine’s archive print collection, and a new film by Rob Kennedy focusing on the stories and experiences of those who worked for the company, highlighting the important contribution it made to Dundee’s social, cultural and industrial heritage.
Panel’s curators Lucy McEachan and Catriona Duffy explained they were interested in capturing the social value of the company and preserving its cultural memory, with the film documenting employees’ stories and memories reveals the importance of work to people’s identity and place.
Over the course of the exhibition, V&A Dundee will continue to collect memories about life at the factory, and its significance to the city, with a supporting programme of events and activities.
Former staff members Bob Duncan and Pat Garland are among those featured in the exhibition. Bob said: “I started off in the very lowest position, as an apprentice lithographer. And the Valentine’s management were quite fantastic, they really made sure apprentices got a first-class training. I gradually progressed up to the point of being general manager for print and graphics and was one of the last managers to leave the premises in 1994, when we closed down completely.”
Pat added: “Valentine’s was a very important company at the time because it was a big employer, employing artists, people in packing and the warehouse, as well as all the office staff. It wasn’t just another company. It was a name in Dundee.”
Delighted with the “fascinating” new exhibition, V&A Dundee director Leonie Bell said: “With the help of its workforce it grew from a family business to become one of the most successful and innovative publishers of postcards in the world. Their story, told beautifully in the exhibition, weaves together many stories from design and social history through to personal memories and nostalgia for the past.”
And Dr Catriona McAra, University Collections & Curation assistant director at the University Of St Andrews, was particularly delighted to help with Panel’s research which has led to such innovative curatorial themes, including new insights into women in the Valentine’s workforce”.
Sincerely, Valentines – From Postcards To Greetings Cards is displayed in V&A Dundee’s Michelin Design Gallery, a free exhibition and project space on the upper floor of the museum, until 8 January 2023.