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Former employees share memories of Dundee firm Valentines ahead of V&A Dundee exhibition

Andrew Valentine pictured in the Napier Room at Richardson Research Library, St Andrews University
Andrew Valentine pictured in the Napier Room at Richardson Research Library, St Andrews University

It is a city famous for the 3Js of jute, jam and journalism.

But a new exhibition telling the story of picture postcard and greetings card company Valentines of Dundee will “finally” celebrate a fourth recognised pillar of Dundee’s industrial heritage.

Former director Andrew Valentine

Andrew Valentine, the great-great grandson of Dundee photographer and picture postcard company founder James Valentine, says he and his late brother Malcolm always “resented” the city’s jute, jam and journalism phraseology.

“Greetings cards didn’t have a ‘J’ in front of it!” he says.

Andrew Valentine at the St Andrews University archive with Catriona McAra & Laura Brown

He now believes, however, that the free exhibition Sincerely, Valentines - From Postcards to Greetings Cards, which opens at V&A Dundee on July 2, will “put a bit of that right”.

“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,” he says.

“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.

Valentines, 1960.

“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.”

Family dynasty

The Courier caught up with Mr Valentine, 82, as he visited the James Valentine Photographic Collection, a unique archive of over 120,000 images held at University of St Andrews Libraries and Museums.

A sixth generation member of the Valentine dynasty which was founded in 1825, he’s been enthralled by the “treasure trove” of material which he admits he knows “far too little about!”

Born in Broughty Ferry with early education there, he went to Clifton Hall Prep School in Edinburgh and Sedbergh School in Cumbria.

He “never wanted to do anything else” other than work in the family business.

Valentines, 1955

Inspired by his childhood trips to the Dundee factory, he joined Valentines in 1959 aged 19 having just missed National Service, and two years before he married Averil.

Encouraged by his father to gain experience across the business, he spent a lot of time in the photographic and illustration departments, finishing up in sales and marketing where he became the sales manager then sales director.

Some of his earliest memories are “being fascinated by the skill and speed of watching people in the factory assembling things together”.

He remembers a ‘Real Photo Machine’.

Photographic paper would go in one end and, 30 yards later, having passed over a “huge great aircraft tyre”, pictures would be developed and printed, and a sheet of postcards came out the other.

Proofing a print at the Kingsway factory

However, while it was the Valentine family who wanted the company to grow, it was the employees who “made this happen”.

That’s why he’s delighted the exhibition has sought the memories of former employees, with two public call-outs through The Courier helping track down more than 40 people.

“I like to think the company name Valentines was a very good one,” he says.

“But I think the employees made it in the end. I think it was a happy company.

“There was a great atmosphere, and strong family connections. Workers within the company would have granny, mum and son or daughter being part of it. Multi-generational working was very much encouraged.”

Changing times

Mr Valentine left the company “amicably” in 1970 a few years after its takeover by John Waddington Ltd.

Andrew Valentine explores the archive with Catriona McAra of St Andrews University

Waddingtons were “very good and managed the company very well”, he says.

However, Mr Valentine also wanted the freedom to do his own thing, away from the big corporate setup.

He started his own greeting card company Andrew Valentine Ltd (AVL) that same year alongside five other ex-Valentine employees.

They eventually grew and moved from Lochee to Wester Gourdie industrial estate with 250 people.

He wound down as chairman of AVL in 1979, transferring to the art reproduction industry, and became chairman of the Nelson Rockefeller Collection Inc in 1984.

24 best Valentines pictures as exhibition celebrating Dundee postcard firm heads for V&A

AVL continued in Dundee, eventually taken over by Rustcraft Cards, which itself was taken over shortly afterwards by American Greetings, the second largest card company in the world.

With Waddingtons selling Valentines to Hallmark Cards in 1980, he recalls that AVL “grew faster than any company at that time including Hallmark”.

However, Mr Valentine believes that AVL grew too fast and became a victim of its own success.

“We could not finance the growth from our own resources,” he says, “so had to attract outside investors to continue to compete with the big American companies and changing markets.

“The workforce increased from approximately 90 to 250 in a very short space of time, and inevitably the company changed, back into the big corporate set up again.”

George Cuthill: Demise a ‘tragedy’

Former Valentines sales director George Cuthill says the commercial reasons that led to the demise of Valentines, and its closure by Hallmark in 1994, was a “tragedy” for Dundee and the day the city “lost a part of its soul”.

Jute, jam and journalism were always quoted as Dundee’s “raison d’etre”, with brands like Keiller and Courier publisher DC Thomson internationally recognised, he says.

However, Valentines in its day, along with Timex, were major employers, the now 83-year-old of Cairneyhill, West Fife, remembers.

Former sales director George Cuthill

Valentines in particular employed a mix of high skill and unskilled, and a proportionately high number of women.

It also brought some prestige to the city having two royal warrants and as a result, the Queen Mother was a frequent visitor when in Scotland.

Originally from Falkirk, George’s 19-year association with Valentines began in 1968 when he was working for Hallmark Cards as the territory salesman for the North East of England, Northumberland and County Durham and living in North Shields.

Valentine salesman John Newton had been promoted and they asked him if he knew any likely replacement.

John said the only one that had “given him trouble” was the Hallmark salesman.

George was approached to jump ship.

Princess Margaret visiting the office with George Cuthill in the backgound (wearing glasses)

When George accepted the job, the area covered was the same as his previous post, as were the majority of customers, but in addition to cards and gift-wrap, he was selling postcards.

In 1969, he was promoted to field sales manager for south of the Thames and in 1973 he was appointed sales manager for the southern half of Britain.

Then in December 1976, he was offered an opportunity to increase his experience by establishing the new role of sales development manager, responsible for publishing and the studio of 14 commercial artists in Dundee.

George and his family moved to Blairgowrie.

At that time, Valentines was owned by Waddingtons, a British manufacturer of card and board games.

Standing (left to right) is Jim Galbraith (managing director – deceased), Ken Ingram (works director), George Cuthill and Brian Gray (HR). Front left is Hugh Brown (financial director – deceased) and right is Ken Illingworth (HR – lives in America now).

When a vacancy arose for a sales director, he left Valentines in August 1978 and moved to Clifford in West Yorkshire during which time he organised three companies – Waddingtons, Art Master of Chelsea and Subbuteo into one – House of Games.

In the summer of 1981, he was approached by Valentines to return as sales director, by which time Valentines had been sold to Hallmark Cards – by now the single biggest card publisher in the world.

George re-joined Valentines on August 31 1981, with the sole task of halting the rate of decline of sales.

This they did by re-organising the sales force.

After six years as sales director, he finally left Valentines in October 1987 to spend the next 19 years as a self-employed sales development adviser.

George Cuthill with his wife at home in Fife

Today, George puts his life experience to good use with Fife Voluntary Action and as a Time Banking development officer.

Thinking back, however, he has never forgotten how important Valentines was to the city of Dundee – or to him personally.

“Valentines gave me the opportunity to enter into management, to extend my skills and experience to give me the right training to be able to work with international companies and to give me the confidence to hold my own,” he says.

“I often say I never worked a day in my life and I do not want to be liked, loved or respected, but only to be appreciated, and Valentines gave me that.

“My motivation was that I wanted to attain and maintain a standard of living for my family and Valentines allowed me the opportunity to do that.”

Former office worker Pat Garland

Dundee woman Pat Garland only worked at Valentines for five years from 1959 to 1964.

Pat Garland worked at Valentines from 1959 to 1964

Joining as the office girl aged 16, the former St Mary’s Forebank and Lawside pupil worked as a comptometer and computer input operator.

She left the company after applying for a promotion as head of the computer input department, only to be told, as was often the view of businesses at the time, “you won’t get the job because you’ll leave and have a child”.

Reflecting on that period, however, the now 79-year-old has “no regrets” about the time she spent there.

Working alongside many older women, she “learned a lot” about life.

After leaving to work in the office of Wm Low, she got married and had two daughters.

An employee at Valentines, Kingsway, 1960

However, she also found her “real world” experience at Valentines invaluable when, later in life, she decided to go back to college and retrain as a primary school teacher.

“Working at Valentines was a big deal at the time,” says Pat who went on to teach at St Fergus Primary in Ardler then in 1985 became deputy head at St Luke’s where she finished up as head teacher.

“It was quite a big office in the accounts department. There were quite a number of people working there. All very friendly. All very nice. I enjoyed my time working there.

“It was multi-generational. There were older women, younger married women. Then there was me – a wee innocent 16-year-old who hadn’t a clue about life.

Valentines multi-pics

“But I got everything finished off for me in the office there because they all talked about their husbands and everything else, and I just listened in!”

Rekindling old memories

Pat got in touch with the organisers of the V&A Dundee exhibition after reading in The Courier their appeal for former employees to get in touch to share memories and anecdotes.

It got her thinking about what a good company it had been to work for.

She remembers bonuses at Christmas and they would get discounts on cards and calendars.

She’d get the bus into town and walk down the Perth Road to the office.

City Square, Dundee, 1940, Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Library: JV-Art-1124

Then in the evening, they’d go dancing.

Most importantly, however, it was memorable as being her first job.

She still keeps in touch with one friend that she met there.

She adds: “I think the exhibition is a good way to celebrate because it was a company that gave a lot and employed a lot of people in Dundee.

“They’ve had myself and my friend down to share memories: they asked us about it and recorded us speaking.

The Harbour, St Andrews, 1940, Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Library: JV-Art-948

“Whether it goes into the actual exhibition or not I don’t know, but it’s nice to be part of it!”

When can you see the exhibition?

Developed in collaboration with the University of St Andrews, Sincerely, Valentines - From Postcards to Greetings Cards 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.

Catriona Duffy of Panel sought the stories of former employees

Central to the exhibition is new work from designer Maeve Redmond who has created a series of oversized postcards, and a new film by Rob Kennedy focusing on the stories and experiences of those who worked for Valentines.

Over the course of the exhibition, V&A Dundee will continue to collect memories about life at the factory, and its significance to the city.

It runs 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.

V&A Dundee exhibition will celebrate the story of city postcard firm Valentines

24 best Valentines pictures as exhibition celebrating Dundee postcard firm heads for V&A

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