An interesting article about the history of Valentine’s Day was featured in the American Agriculturist, February, 1886:
Valentines.-Why do we Send Them?
Many boys on the night of the third day of July do not go to bed, or if they do so, they arrange to be called long before sunrise, that they may fire guns, blow horns, and make various other noises, by way of “celebrating the Fourth of July.” If these boys were asked: “What is the Fourth of July, and why do you celebrate it?” they would be at a loss for an answer. The fourteenth day of February is regarded as St. Valentine’s day, and in many places it is the custom with young people to send Valentines to their friends of the opposite sex. This used to be a pleasant letter, ornamented with cut paper and other devices by the sender, the chief point being to keep from the one who received it the names of the giver. These missives were called “Valentines.” Of late years, “Valentines so called, are made for sale; some of them being marvels of cut and embossed paper, and pictures, grading all the way down to vile and insulting caricatures, which no decent person would look at, much less purchase. If any girl is asked what is a valentine, and why do you send it on February fourteenth? She will be as much puzzled for an answer as her brother, when asked to tell why he celebrated the Fourth of July. The answer probably would be that “it is St. Valentine’s Day,” but if asked, who was St. Valentine, and why should his day be celebrated? They would fail of giving an answer. Well, the girls would be no worse off than the learned men, who have tried to answer the same question. If there ever was a St. Valentine, it is doubtful if he had anything to do with our Valentine’s Day. Those who have looked into the matter say, that in very early times, in several countries, especially those in the northern part of Europe, it was the custom of the young people to assemble; the names of the girls were placed in a box, from which the young men drew them. The girl whose name was drawn was to be the young man who drew it, his “valentine,” and he was to show her special attention for the year. It is said, that these “imaginary engagements” often led them to make real ones.
It is also said, that the connection of this custom with St. Valentine’s day is purely accidental. How the custom of giving presents or “valentines” on this day originated is not known. While the young people made their own valentines, the custom was a pretty one, and in a country neighborhood often gave rise to much pleasant guessing. Since valentines are made by machinery, the sending of them has lost its charm, the kind being sent being governed by the length of the purse of the sender. The observance of Valentine’s day, whether there ever was such a saint or not, may be the source of much amusement, and as such we are in favor of it.