The description accompanying the featured image attached to today’s Valentine’s Day story (John Hartley’s Valentine Day), notes that the card is a “Cobweb” or “Birdcage” Valentine card in which a secret image or message is hidden beneath an intricately cut and embossed top or front image. To reveal the secret image, the recipient must unravel the puzzle of the first, often with a piece of attached thread:
This is an exceptional Valentine, with the central design being a twisted paper confection which looks like a morning glory, and when untwisted, reveals a fine cobweb device, and both have been applied to the center of the page. The exterior of the cobweb is a painting of pink roses, white lilies, and pansies — as a message in the Language of Flowers. It can only be viewed when the first paper puzzle is opened. A thread lifts the interior paper device to reveal a carefully painted image of Cupid in flight, above a flaming Altar of Love. There is finely written poetry on the interior “petals” of the morning glory. Delicately painted vignettes surround the central cartouche — acorns and oak leaves on the sides, a pink rose and buds at the top, and forget-me-nots below. The cobweb, a delightful kind of paper engineering, was a moveable device, also known as a Beehive, a Flower Cage, or a Birdcage. The paper has cherubs and French phrases embossed in the corners. The short sides are embossed with laurel leaves, while the long sides are embossed with oak leaves. Edge is painted with 2 mm. pink watercolor border. The makers’ name, Dobbs Patent, is faintly embossed below an interior embossed frame, bordered with symbols of music and art. The various Dobbs imprints were in use 1810-1851, with Dobbs Patent being among the earliest. The imprint changed over the years. (See Staff, Frank, The Valentine and its Origins, page 41.) This is a folded “stampless cover” which was mailed. The cancellation has been made three times, so it is difficult to decipher, except the clear year, 1840.
For more on Cobweb Valentine cards (and to see several more demonstrations of the big reveal), see the small collection of cards (and gifs) at mymodernmet.