In 1978, John Havel, an exhibit designer with the NC Museum of History came upon some rather unusual valentines.
"America and England went through a stage of very cruel, nasty valentines in the 1840s and 1850s," Havel said. "They were printed cards, and people sent them to spinsters, widows and drunkards. ..."
Here's an example of a not-so-nice card mailed around 1850:
A lass you are, but hard you tried to wed,
But alas, for you, the male fools all are dead.
When you were young, your heart did pant and throb
but a pair of pants ne'er answered to your sob.
You were a rose -- remember it now, I can't;
But now you are a faded century plant ..
You've gone to seed! On manhood 'tis a blot
That such a maid as you should go to pot.
-- The News & Observer 2/10/1978
By the 20th century, Valentine sentiments were a little more familiar. The February issue of Wrightsville Beach Magazine has an article about love letters sent from the USS North Carolina during World War II. You can see a virtual copy of the article with images of love letters and Valentine's Day cards online.