Token of love stands the test of time

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This 266-year-old puzzle purse valentine, passed down through the MacGregor family, is in the McGregor Historical Museum’s collection.

MacGregor family valentine in museum collection

 

By Audrey Posten

Although members of the MacGregor family no longer inhabit the community that bears their name, a token of love passed from generation to generation continues to live on at the McGregor Historical Museum. That token of love is a puzzle purse valentine, dating back to 1750.

Puzzle purses became a popular valentine as early as the 1700s and were further popularized in the Victorian era. A puzzle purse is formed when a square sheet of paper—decorated in colorful imagery and romantic words—is folded repeatedly into a grid of nine smaller squares and then collapsed into a four-pointed pinwheel shape, discovered McGregor Public Library Director Michelle Pettit, who’s researched the puzzle purse in the museum’s collection. By folding back the panels one at a time in sequential order, the romantic message is conveyed through verses of a poem, she said.

According to McGregor historian Lena D. Myers in a North Iowa Times article from Feb. 1942, the MacGregor puzzle purse was likely made by John MacGregor, grandfather of McGregor’s founder, Alexander MacGregor. John was born on March 19, 1731, in Grenoch, near Stirling, in Scotland, and favored Miss Anne Wood, who was a year younger than him and lived in the area.

“Whether this valentine was his proposal or not, propose he must have and she accepted his proposal, for a little later John MacGregor and Anne Wood were married,” Myers noted.

The MacGregor puzzle purse is 12 inches square and was drawn using red and black ink. A large black and red, 12-petal flower rests in the middle of the valentine. Circling the flower are the words “As this ring is round and hath no end, so is my love to you my friend.” Four smaller flowers reside at each corner of the puzzle purse, while other flowers enclosed in circles, as well as some hearts, fall along the edges. On one of the edges, a sentence reads: “A love I prize far greater than gold, my heart doth break as you unfold.” Surrounding the center flower is what Myers described as a Maltese cross, containing the words:

“My dearest dear and best divine

I have pictured here your heart and mine.

But Cupid with his fatal dart

Sore wounded this my tender heart,

And has between us sent a cross

That makes me sore lament the loss;

But I am hopes when this is gone

That both our hearts will join one.

In the inside, sweet turtle dove

I have a few (some illegible words) of my love.

The powers of fury shan’t portend

Oh say that I have false stories penned.

Love is a gentle passion

Source of all sublime delight

When with mutual inclination

Two fond hearts in one unite.”

“The puzzle purse represents a metaphor: open your heart to love,” said Pettit.

Although the writing and imagery of the puzzle purse is still legible, age and years of intricate folding have left the paper yellowed and worn at the creases. It’s framed and was, at one point, said Myers, pasted onto cloth in order to preserve it.

The puzzle purse continued through the family when Anne MacGregor bequeathed it to her grandson, Alexander McGregor. Born in New York on May 23, 1804, Alexander moved westward, to what would become Chicago, in 1832. He brought the puzzle purse with him when he settled in the Prairie du Chien area several years later.

The puzzle purse came into the McGregor Historical Museum’s collection in 1942, donated by Eloise MacGregor, who received it from Alexander, her grandfather. Eloise was the only child of Gardner MacGregor, the younger and only married son of Alexander and his wife, Ann. Eloise passed away in Chicago in Jan. 1950, with no close relatives.

Now 266 years old, the valentine is one of, if not the, oldest pieces the McGregor Historical Museum has in its possession, said volunteer Jean Peterson. However, it has not been displayed. Several years ago, when she unpacked and tried to organize the upstairs of the museum, Peterson said she came across the valentine, but placed it into a group of other craft-like items. Later, when doing research, she came across the Myers article telling of the valentine. She located the valentine again after being contacted by Pettit.

“We got excited when we discovered it,” Peterson said of herself and Pettit.

Now knowing more history behind the puzzle purse valentine, Peterson said she plans to display it in the museum, near other MacGregor family mementos. A detailing of the sentiments expressed in the valentine will be included, allowing all those who visit the museum to learn of the words of love that have continued to stand the test of time.

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