The story of Scotland’s most pioneering and successful commercial photographers, best known for popularising the holiday postcard, will be celebrated in a free exhibition that opens at V&A Dundee this summer.
Sincerely, Valentines – From Postcards to Greetings Cards, runs from July 2 until January 8, 2023 and will tell the story of Dundee company J Valentine & Sons.
Founded in 1825 in Dundee, the family firm Valentines capitalised on rapid developments in photography, printing and tourism in the early 20th century to create a fascinating body of work and a vibrant industry, quickly becoming one of Dundee’s largest employers.
The exhibition, developed in collaboration with the University of St Andrews, is a partnership between V&A Dundee and curatorial practice Panel that uncovers the story of Valentines, bringing together the disciplines of photography, illustration and print design.
Supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, the exhibition will be displayed in V&A Dundee’s Michelin Design Gallery, a free exhibition and project space on the upper floor of the museum.
Central to the exhibition is new work from designer Maeve Redmond who has created a series of oversized postcards in response to the vast Valentines archive print collection.
It also features a new film by Rob Kennedy focusing on the stories and experiences of those who worked for Valentines, highlighting the important contribution Valentines made to Dundee’s social, cultural and industrial heritage.
With support from the Valentine family and following two public call outs in The Courier, more than 40 families came forward to share memories.
These important oral histories uncovered stories such as the crucial role women played in the life of the factory and what it was like to work for the family-owned firm.
The exhibition will feature original photographs that have never been exhibited before, alongside printing plates, historic postcards, promotional company magazines, booklets and greetings cards from the James Valentine Photographic Collection, a unique archive held at University of St Andrews Libraries and Museums.
Original artwork and greetings cards loaned from former Valentines employees will also be on show.
Over the course of the exhibition, V&A Dundee will continue to collect memories about life at the factory, and its significance to Dundee.
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 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.
“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.”
Support of Valentine family
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.
“Sadly, Malcolm died in 2016, and it was not until a couple of years after that I approached the V&A team in Dundee to explore the possibilities of an exhibition, backed by the James Valentine photographic collection, preserved by University of St Andrews Libraries & Museums.
“Right from that very first meeting, I have been immensely encouraged by everyone’s enthusiasm and have appreciated being involved throughout the process.
“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.”
Rachel Nordstrom, photographic collections manager at University of St Andrews, said: “It has been a real pleasure to investigate new aspects of our photographic archive in partnership with V&A Dundee and Panel.
“Examining the stories behind the Valentine work force and finding new ways to explore their printing practices gives new life to one of our most important and prominent collections.
“This new partnership across our institutions will undoubtedly deliver an engaging and meaningful exhibition and event line-up.”
Curators Catriona Duffy and Lucy McEachan of Panel, said the popularity of the postcard reached its peak in the early 1900s.
During that time its unique status as both a collectable picture and a communication tool invested it with soft power across geography, class, politics and taste and it can be compared to the reach of social media today.
It has been a revealing process to research the ideas and innovations of this important medium through the vast Valentines collection held at the University of St Andrews, they said, and rewarding to look out beyond the collection, connecting with former Valentines employees across Dundee in order to find out more about what it took to build such a prominent industry across the city.
*Sincerely, Valentines -From Postcards to Greetings Cards will be displayed in V&A Dundee’s Michelin Design Gallery, a free exhibition and project space on the upper floor of the museum from July 2 2022 until January 8 2023.