Queen of Hearts

Love is all around this time of year with woman’s vast valentine collection.

By Lexie Heinle / World-Herald staff writer

Friday, February 13, 2015

Marles Nicholls received her favorite valentine when she was 1 year old. Her grandmother gave her the 1943 valentine, which shows a little blond girl riding a tricycle with the message, “I’m in a race for your heart, Valentine.”

“I really loved my grandma,” Nicholls said. “She was just a wonderful person to me.”

Nicholls has an estimated 500 valentines to remind her of her loved ones. The 72-year-old Elkhorn area woman displays 13 decades of her family’s valentines in her home each year. Nicholls found the collection, which begins in the 1890s, after her mother, LoisElda Larson, died 20 years ago.

"My collection is something that was just given to me, and I didn't expect that I would have it," Nicholls said.

Valentines from her grandmother, Margaret S. Howard, and mother form the early portion of the collection. Nicholls said the women’s motives were simple.

“They were ladies that just kept everything,” she said, including a valentine from the late 1930s that Nicholls’ grandfather gave her grandmother.

The collection, which is organized by decade, shows trends in valentines and culture.

As a 1930s schoolteacher, Nicholls’ mother received many valentines from her students. These often featured movable parts, such as a telephone going up and down or eyes rotating back and forth. A female pilot is featured on one valentine, which Nicholls said represents Amelia Earhart.

Other popular figures featured in their respective decades are Little Lulu in the 1950s, Snoopy in the 1960s and astronauts in the 1970s.

Valentines from the 1930s combine a lot of corny jokes and cherubic children with their sweet sentiments. SARAH HOFFMAN/THE WORLD-HERALD

“I just think it’s a great tradition,” Nicholls said. “It’s a fun thing for children. It teaches them handwriting.”

Nicholls continues the valentine tradition by sending valentine boxes to her son Brent’s family in Lincoln and daughter Lisa Jule’s family in Denver. Nicholls’ valentines from her eight grandchildren are among her favorites from the past few decades, especially the homemade ones. In 2010, she received a valentine featuring a hand print of her 1-year-old grandchild, Veronica.

From the 1980s onward, Nicholls doesn’t see much change in the valentines other than the appearance of valentine e-cards, which she says are “not the same.”

Older valentines were elaborate, featuring lace and cherubs. SARAH HOFFMAN/THE WORLD-HERALD

The number of valentines for each decade varies with stages in Nicholls’ life. There are lots from her childhood in Billings, Montana, but only a few from the 1960s when Nicholls and her husband, Ed, were a young couple.

“I had to go back and raid scrapbooks,” Nicholls said. One of those valentines was addressed to the couple’s dog, Woof Pericles.

From a 1949 valentine from Nicholls’ first boyfriend to a more recent handmade one from her husband of 49 years, each valentine reminds Nicholls of a moment from her life.

"I would have had no idea when I was a child, or when I was first married or when the kids were in grade school (that) something like this would bring back memories," Nicholls said. "I mean, you just roll through your life."

A 1998 menu booklet reminds Nicholls of her favorite valentine dinner. At Lord Byron Hotel in Rome, Nicholls and her husband dined on cosmopolitan dishes like risotto with artichoke hearts flavored with mint during the three-course meal.

Although old valentines can be valuable, Nicholls doesn’t measure her family collection by its financial worth.

“They’re meaningful to me,” she said.

The collection has never been appraised, and Nicholls doesn’t foresee that changing. She plans on always displaying her valentines.

Nicholls, who describes herself as nostalgic, has other collections, including a room dedicated to her childhood, an area with church relics and a Harry Potter room.

Nicholls doesn’t stop at valentines for her home’s seasonal decoration. She finds heart-shaped plates and other Valentine’s Day paraphernalia at garage sales to decorate her home.

Marles Nicholls, left, chats with her friend Connie McIntosh, right, over tea and cakes at her home in Elkhorn, Nebraska. SARAH HOFFMAN/THE WORLD-HERALD

"Every nook, every place you look there will be a valentine," said Connie McIntosh, family friend for 40 years. "Every holiday, she goes all out."

Nicholls sometimes takes her valentines on the road to show them, including to a 2003 fundraiser in Hartington, Nebraska, and a 1998 valentine-themed bridal shower for McIntosh’s daughter.

Although Nicholls didn’t plan on the valentine collection, she said she will continue to display it and add to it.

“I didn’t set out that I would do something like this, and it just makes it fun, and I think you have to have fun,” she said.

Share your thoughts