Scotland’s holiday postcard trailblazers to be honoured with exhibition at V&A Dundee

A family-run photography and printing firm which became Scotland’s biggest producer of holiday postcards is to be celebrated in a major new exhibition.

Printing firm Valentines operated in Dundee from 1851 to 1994.
Printing firm Valentines operated in Dundee from 1851 to 1994.

Dundee’s V&A design museum is to honour printing dynasty Valentines, which grew to become one of the biggest employers after capitalising on the early Scottish tourism industry in the century Scotland.

Formed in 1851 by James Valentine, the company originally focused on engraving, printing and stationery before branching out into photography.

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By the early 20th century, Valentines was employing more than 1000 workers and sending photographers all over the country from spring till autumn each year.

A postcard from Dundee produced by the printing firm Valentines.
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The company is best remembered for its picture cards, with more than a million being produced every week by the 1930s, however it also produced framed images, albums, guides, children’s picture books and greetings cards.

The latter became the company’s biggest part of the business in the 1950s, however the family's control had waned by the following decade when it was taken over by Leeds outfit Waddingtons.

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Its long association with Dundee ended in 1004 when the company’s factory was closed down.

Its official archives are held at St Andrews University, which has collaborated with V&A Dundee on the exhibition, Sincerely, Valentines - From Postcards to Greetings Cards, which will run on the upper floor of the museum from July till January.

An artist Working at Dundee printing and photograpy firm Valentines.

It will feature everything from original photographs going on public display for the first time to printing plates, historic postcards, and promotional magazines, booklets and greetings cards.

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More than 40 families with connections to Valentines have helped develop the exhibition and an accompanying film.

Andrew Valentine, great-great grandson of James Valentine, said: "For many years, my brother Malcolm and I felt that the contribution Valentines made to photography and design and the employment record of the loyal staff who made the company's success possible, has never been properly acknowledged.

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"Sadly, Malcolm died in 2016, and it was not until a couple of years after that I approached the V&A team to explore the possibilities of an exhibition. “Right from that very first meeting, I have been immensely encouraged by everyone’s enthusiasm and have appreciated being involved throughout the process.

A promotional postcard for Dundee printing and photography firm Valentines.

“I just wish that all my family who contributed so much to the success and reputation of the Valentine company in Dundee could be around to see the wonderful way in which their work, and the effort of all who worked in the company, is now being recorded in this very comprehensive way.”

V&A Dundee director Leonie Bell said: “V&A Dundee is delighted to welcome people from across the city and beyond to enjoy this fascinating free exhibition celebrating J. Valentine & Sons, 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.

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"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.”

Rachel Nordstrom, photographic collections manager at St Andrews University, said: “Examining the stories behind the Valentine workforce and finding new ways to explore their printing practices gives new life to one of our most important and prominent collections.

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"This new partnership across our institutions will undoubtedly deliver an engaging and meaningful exhibition and event line-up.”

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