IT might surprise anyone who has driven along Dundee’s Kingsway that it was originally planned as a wide, almost bucolic, tree-lined avenue. The city’s ring road is now one of the busiest routes, doing its job in taking traffic away from the city centre, but it’s also pretty grey and functional – the site of industrial and retail parks.

For decades, however, it was the site of one of the city’s most colourful employers, Valentines of Dundee. For decades, almost every greetings card that graced a Scottish mantelpiece or picture postcard delivering news of the weather was designed and printed when the Kingsway factory was in its prime.

It was such a large and important employer that Valentines had offices, studios and sales teams in premises across the west end of the city.


The National: Women working in the folding department of Valentines in 1964 and just two examples of what the company producedWomen working in the folding department of Valentines in 1964 and just two examples of what the company produced

Although the business isn’t one of those famous Dundee Js, we can perhaps add James Valentine, who founded the original company in 1825.

Opening at the V&A Dundee today, Sincerely, Valentines – From Postcards to Greetings Cards is a collaboration between the museum and the University of St Andrews, which holds the James Valentine photographic collection, and the curatorial a curatorial arts organisation Panel.

Andrew Valentine, the great-great grandson of James Valentine says: “For many years, my brother Malcolm and I felt that the contribution Valentines made to photography and design has never been properly acknowledged. Similarly, the employment record of the loyal staff who made the company’s success possible.”

Two years after Malcolm died in 2016, Andrew approached the V&A to explore the possibility of an exhibition. He was delighted at the positive response and enthusiasm shown from the first meeting. “I’ve also appreciated being involved throughout the process,” he said. “I just wish all my family who contributed so much to the success and reputation of the company 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.”

The exhibition brings together the disciplines that shaped the global success of the company, beginning as a commercial photographer but later bringing in design and illustration to create postcards and ultimately greetings cards. The company closed its doors in 1994, having been sold to Hallmark Cards in the 1980s.

The National: NE244 1960-08-XX_01 Valentine and Sons Ltd Kingsway Dundee_14 ©DCT..August 1960..[A man in a factory setting is looking at artwork for a greetings card. The card reads, “Hurry up ‘n’ grab me while there’s somethin’ left

The exhibition has been curated by Catriona Duffy and Lucy McEachan of Panel, who have spent countless hours among the treasures of the archive. As a curatorial arts organisation, Panel creates projects in response to particular histories, archives and collections.

“We were aware of Valentines as a postcard company,” says Duffy, “but had no idea of its impact right back to the mid-19th century or of its origins as a photographic studio. The fact that it had such a huge impact on the city and such a high number of employees showed how many other stories there were to tell about Dundee industry outside of the usual narratives.”

The exhibition is about much more than objects from the archive, even though there will be original photographs that have never been seen before, alongside printing plates, historic postcards, promotional company magazines, booklets and greetings cards.

A call-out to former employees to get in touch and share their stories was a success, with people coming forward from across the company, from the factory shop floor to management to the accounts offices.

“We were really interested in locating beyond the collection too, to think about what was missing from the archive,” Duffy adds.

“By bringing in local voices and personal memories from the company, we can reveal so much more than Valentines. What they produced, about the nature of work, and the importance of work to identity and to place.

“We are looking at the value of the social history that we’re capturing and looking at preserving that cultural memory through that design-led interrogation.”

Panel also works alongside artists and designers to create new work and here there are two significant additions, with Maeve Redmond’s series of oversized postcards in response to the print archives and a film by Rob Kennedy. It’s here we hear the voices and experiences of the workers and understand the contribution Valentines made to Dundee’s social, cultural and industrial heritage.

Among those voices is Jan Sturrock, who walked out of the school gates on a Friday and into the accounts office of Valentines on the Monday morning. “I was there from 1957 to just weeks before the doors were closed in 1994,” she says. “It was a time when a job for life really meant a job for life. Some years before I retired we had a joint retirement of about seven men and between them they had clocked up hundreds of years of services.”

Even though the staff were spread over different locations in Dundee, she says there was always a strong sense of camaraderie and there were also opportunities for women to advance.

The National: A postcard from city’s thriving past

Sturrock says: “You wouldn’t go to work for Valentines to make your fortune but there’s more to a working life than that and it really was a wonderful place to work. My first pay was £1/19/10, but I was happy to be a working woman and having money to spend on going to the dance halls and cafes – and paying your own way.

“There definitely were opportunities to advance in your career. It was a time when most women worked there until they had family, then had a break, and maybe came back.”

Sturrock didn’t have children so her service was unbroken during those 37 years. Two sisters and a niece also worked at Valentines, whether full time or as a student during holidays. “It was a bit like other employers in the city, like Timex and NCR,” she says. “If you had someone else working there, and they were reasonably good employees, you were looked on favourably.”

When it came to curation, Panel had 120,000 postcards among the vast archive and Duffy says that it was clear what a democratic form of communication they were.

“It’s not all holiday postcards,” she says. “With the cost and a postal service running three or four times a day, it was a source of communication that was available to everyone.

“Between the design-led perspective, the changes in the nature of work, and the film, which we hope to take out to care homes and to others who can’t get to the V&A but who might have their own memories, it’s an exhibition that is still growing and finally giving Valentines its place in Dundee’s history.”