While many of us are preparing for Valentine's Day with cards, flowers and other signs of affection, there was a time not too long ago when such sentiments also included insults, denigrations and spitefulness.

During the Victorian era, from the late 1830s to the early 20th century, it was common for some unfortunate souls to receive unflattering Valentine's Day cards from anonymous hecklers. Such notes, generally portraying the recipient in caricature form, would insult everything from the person's cruel demeanor to their laziness. The cards were sometimes so distasteful that postmasters would often confiscate them before they reached their intended target.

"There were so many different kinds," Annebella Pollen, a lecturer in art and design history at University of Brighton, U.K., told Collectors Weekly. "You could send them to your neighbors, friends, or enemies. You could send them to your schoolteacher, your boss, or people whose advances you wanted to dismiss. You could send them to people you thought were too ugly or fat, who drank too much, or people acting above their station. There was a card for pretty much every social ailment."

Below are a few more examples of "Vinegar Valentines" from the 19th century that intended to cut, rather than touch, the heart.

A Victorian Era Valentine titled "The Nerve Destroyer."
A Victorian era valentine bluntly titled 'The Nerve Destroyer.' (Photo: Creative Commons)
A 'rattlesnake' valentine from the Victorian Era.
A 'rattlesnake' valentine cuts right to the bone. (Photo: Creative Commons)
A 'death upon a mopstick' Valentine from the Victorian Era.
This 'death upon a mopstick' valentine isn't for the meek-hearted. (Photo: Creative Commons)
A vinegar Valentine from the Victorian Era slamming someone for their looks.
No valentine should ever begin: 'Oh, you ugly little thing ...' (Photo: Creative Commons)
A vinegar Valentine from the Victorian Era disapproving of displays of public affection.
Public displays of affection were frowned upon in Victorian times. (Photo: Creative Commons)
A vinegar valentine titled 'pussycat' from the Victorian Era.
In this instance, being called a 'pussycat' — especially one always 'seeking a victim' — is not a high compliment. (Photo: Creative Commons)
A vinegar Valentine from the Victorian Era decrying the loud piano playing by a neighbor.
This piano players efforts are not appreciated by the neighbor. (Photo: Creative Commons)
A vinegar Valentine from the Victorian Era decrying laziness.
Ouch! A vinegar valentine decrying laziness. (Photo: Creative Commons)

Michael d'Estries ( @michaeldestries ) covers science, technology, art, and the beautiful, unusual corners of our incredible world.