V&A Dundee

Sincerely, Valentines – From Postcards to Greetings Cards opens at V&A Dundee

The story behind Valentines, one of the most innovative publishers of postcards and greetings cards in the world, and the skilled workforce that contributed to its success, is explored in a free exhibition opening at V&A Dundee tomorrow (Saturday 2 July).

Best known for popularising the picture postcard by capitalising on rapid developments in photography, printing and tourism in the early 20th century, Valentines mass produced a fascinating body of work in photography, illustration and print design and was one of Dundee’s most successful employers for over 150 years.

Developed in collaboration with the University of St Andrews, the new exhibition Sincerely, Valentines - From Postcards to Greetings Cards is a partnership between V&A Dundee and curatorial practice Panel that uncovers Valentines’ compelling design story.

With support from the Valentine family, and following two public call-outs, more than 40 families with Valentines connections came forward to contribute to the exhibition which celebrates the workforce, design process and output of the Dundee firm that was productive since 1825 and throughout the 20th century.

Supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, Sincerely, Valentines - From Postcards to Greetings Cards includes postcards, photographic negatives, prints, sales catalogues, workplace publications and magazines, all of which are on loan from the Valentine Photographic Collection, a unique archive held at the University of St Andrews, or from private lenders, many of whom were employees at the firm.

Exhibition curators Catriona Duffy and Lucy McEachan of Panel commissioned new work by two contemporary designers to sit alongside the historic material. Central to the exhibition is a series of oversized postcards by graphic designer Maeve Redmond created in response to the vast Valentines archive print collection, and a new film by Rob Kennedy that includes stories and memories from some of the individuals who worked at the company from the 1950s to the 1990s.

Curator Lucy McEachan of Panel said: “Through our research we have been interested in capturing the social value of Valentines and of preserving its cultural memory through a design-led interrogation of the archive at the University of St Andrews. As a part of this, Maeve Redmond's ambitious new work has responded to items from the archive to explore the print process and the culture of mass production through a series of giant postcards, which inhabit the upper foyer of the museum.”

Curator Catriona Duffy of Panel said: “A key component of the exhibition is a short film by artist Rob Kennedy, which documents stories and memories from a selection of former Valentines employees. The film reveals the importance of work to identity and place and highlights the important contribution Valentines plays in Dundee’s social history and design heritage.”

Andrew Valentine, great-great grandson of founder James Valentine, said: “As the last member of the Valentine family who worked in Valentine and Sons, it is 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.

“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.

“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 – From Postcards to Greetings Cards 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 and Sons recorded in such a professional way.”

The Sincerely, Valentines film features the voices of printers and finishers, artists and illustrators, accountants and administrators including Frances Connor who started to work at Valentines in 1969 at the age of 16 in the Finishing Department, Pat Garland who worked in the Accounts Department between 1958 and 1964 and Bob Duncan, who began his time in 1962 as an Apprentice Printer going on to become General Manager for Print & Graphics until the factory closed its doors for the final time in 1994.

Bob Duncan, a former Valentines employee, said: “I started off in the very lowest position, as an apprentice lithographer. And Valentines were quite fantastic, that they really made sure apprentices got a first-class training, and 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 Garland, a former Valentines employee, said: “Valentines 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 at the time.”

Leonie Bell, Director at V&A Dundee, said: “V&A Dundee is delighted to welcome people from across the city and beyond to enjoy this fascinating free exhibition celebrating Dundee firm Valentines, which with the help of its workforce 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.”

Dr Catriona McAra, Assistant Director, University Collections and Curation at the University of St Andrews, said: “University of St Andrews is thrilled to be showcasing highlights from this significant collection on such a public platform. University Collections have been delighted to facilitate Panel’s research which has led to such innovative curatorial themes, including new insights into women in the Valentines workforce. We hope it will strengthen the existing ties between University of St Andrews and V&A Dundee, and we hope it will lead to more exciting collaborations in the future.”

Laura Chow, head of charities at People’s Postcode Lottery, said: Sincerely, Valentines tells an important story about Scotland’s design heritage and the Valentines workforce in Dundee. Museums need to work closely with their communities to share untold stories, and I’m delighted that the players of People’s Postcode Lottery have supported V&A Dundee to open this new exhibition.”

Over the course of the exhibition, V&A Dundee will continue to collect memories about life at the factory, and its significance to Dundee. A supporting programme of events and activities will be announced on V&A Dundee’s website.

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 from 2 July 2022 until 8 Jan 2023.