Scherenschnitte, meaning “scissor cuts” in German, is the art of paper cutting. The designs are frequently symmetrical, and are often used to create silhouettes and valentines. This European tradition was developed in sixteenth century Switzerland and Germany, and immigrants brought the designs to Colonial America in the eighteenth century. Paper cutting traditions also exist in many other cultures. For example, China’s paper cutting techniques, perhaps the world’s oldest, date from the sixth century.
The Henry James Brown Papers (Mss. 65 B845) contain three handmade valentines created using paper cutting in the early 1870s by Salina Brown (1849-1932) for her future husband, Joseph Shields Worsham (1846-1922). The couple married on January 29, 1879 in Lynchburg, Virginia.
“Ever of thee, I’m fondly dreaming,” the valentine shown on the right, includes a poem inscribed on the inside: “I would not quit a thought of thee, / Nor bid my dreams of joy take wing, / I would not from thy spell be free, / For all the treasures earth can bring.”
The reverse of the cutout front shows that Brown drew the design in pencil and then cut out the pattern. She also used a metal point to pierce small holes into the design to add further dimension to the cutouts.
Another valentine includes a handwritten note to preserve its dramatic story: “This valentine was made by Salina Brown and sent to Joe Worsham in 1870. It was burnt at the District Parsonage in Lynchburg in 1899 when the Church caught fire.”
The third valentine was created in a similar manner, but includes cutout letters and decoration in gold glued to the center of the design.