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Valentines, the old-fashioned way, at Henry B. Plant Museum

Henry B. Plant Museum

A Victorian valentine from the Henry B. Plant Museum.

Henry B. Plant Museum

We could be cynical and call Valentine's Day the Hallmark and FTD Holiday because, goodness knows, millions are spent on cards and flowers. Candy expenditures rank right up there, too. And if you haven't already made a dinner reservation, you had better develop a solid Plan B now or risk tragic repercussions. Still, I'm a sucker for the holiday.

The concept of Valentine's Day stretches way back, first as a saints' day in the Christian Church. There are various theories about how it evolved into a celebration of romantic love that today celebrates love in general. Yes, you can get a Valentine's Day card for your dog.

Did you know that the Victorians invented the valentine as a mass-produced commercial commodity? I didn't until I initiated a little research sparked by "Valentines: Tokens of Affection," an exhibition at the Henry B. Plant Museum. It's a collection of antique valentines from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. That era's version of mass-produced and ours are different. Even though manufacturers availed themselves of printing technologies that allowed them to churn out stock cards, workers also embellished them individually in factories with bits of lace, ribbon, dried flowers and feathers.

This is a sweet show, seen in the context of the museum, which is housed in part of Henry B. Plant's epic (for the time) 1891 Tampa Hotel, now part of the University of Tampa, 401 W Kennedy Blvd. It's a valentine of sorts to the Gilded Age in which it was built and thrived, with lavish architectural details and interior furnishings.

See the valentines through Feb. 28 at the museum, which is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $10 adults, $7 seniors and students and $5 kids 4 to 12. plantmuseum.com or (813) 258-7302.

Lennie Bennett, Times art critic

Valentines, the old-fashioned way, at Henry B. Plant Museum 02/11/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 11, 2014 6:25pm]

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