Tracking love through the years with Wichitan’s vintage valentines

Wichitan Joan Smith has been collecting valentines since the 1970s.
Wichitan Joan Smith has been collecting valentines since the 1970s. The Wichita Eagle

Wichitan Joan Smith talks about her Valentine's Day card collection, which she began in the 1970s. (Video by Beccy Tanner / The Wichita Eagle / Feb. 12, 2017)

For more than four decades, Joan Smith has been collecting vintage valentines.

Other people’s valentines.

So far, she has between 150 and 200 – maybe more. Some are more than a century old.

The minute Christmas is over, she begins decorating her house with her valentine collection. Big ones. Small ones. Fold-outs. The kind you used to get in school. The kind your spouse would give. Any valentine will do.

Now 85, Smith remembers the kinds of cards she received in school.

“We always had a valentine box decorated with paper and had a party where you got valentines from all your classmates,” she said. “I don’t have any of mine. I am a pack rat. My mother wasn’t. She couldn’t wait to throw things out. I started in the 1970s and have bought a lot that people had in scrapbooks and that had somehow ended up for sale.”

Tables, knick-knacks – all are decorated with valentines.

There is one depicting a girl riding a camel with the inscription “To the one I love.”

A piggy bank saying “Love.”

Angels, nurses, cowboys all declaring their love.

Longtime Wichitans know Smith as the co-owner of Jerry Smith’s Command Post, which used to be on East Douglas. Her husband, Jerry, died in 2003.

So why does she display all these valentines?

“I know what my husband would say: ‘Pride of ownership.’ He collected authentic military items. But I’m just really proud of them,” Smith said. “They just don’t make them like this anymore. There’s one that is a lady on a switchboard. Well, I worked on a (telephone) switchboard during the 1940s and 1950s. They are just so very unique and fragile.”

But come Wednesday, it’s all going back in storage.

After Tuesday, it will be time to decorate for St. Patrick’s Day.

Beccy Tanner: 316-268-6336, @beccytanner