C.J. Howard was born in 1848, probably in Brooklyn, New York, where he resided in 1908. He began drawing comic valentines in 1868 and worked as a staff cartoonist for the comic periodical Wild Oats. It was reported in the New York Herald in 1908 that
Mr. Howard submits about one thousand pen and ink sketches every year and the firm accepts about four hundred and fifty of them, paying a uniform price for each drawing accepted.
The firm for which Mr. Howard works has been manufacturing comic valentines for seventy-two years, and in its employ is W.J. Rigney, a poet of great versatility, who not only writes the doggerel which accompanies the penny comic valentines but also writes the love sonnets for the sentimental valentines, which range in price from five cents to $5 each.“I usually write to Howard’s comic pictures,” said Mr. Rigney. “As a rule a glance at one of his drawings will inspire the verse. Sometimes the words and ideas will come to me unbidden, and then I will make a suggestion to Howard for the drawing of a picture”... among Mr. Rigney’s most treasured possessions are two bound volumes of publishers’ samples of comic valentines made a hundred years ago. The woodcuts of these samples were crudely colored by hand with stencils, and only about two colors were used. Today however, comic valentines are usually printed in six colors – two colors at a time.
Unfortunately the Herald article does not mention the name of the firm Howard and Rigney worked for. Two of the earliest New York publishers of comic almanacks and valentines were Elton & Co. and A.J. Fisher. Fisher had several branches in Boston, Baltimore and Philadelphia and first appeared in New York Directories in 1836. Fisher’s firm was taken over by George C. Whitney.
Thomas Strong began publishing valentines in 1842. Contemporaries were Charles P. Heustis, T. Frere, Charles Magnus and James Wrigley. The earliest comic valentines were lithographed, later they would be hand-colored. They would soon be exclusively printed from wood blocks, first hand-colored and later in multi-colors. Robert H. Elton claimed to be publishing comic valentines as early as 1834. Sometime after 1854 he sold out to the McLoughlin Brothers, who had begun printing comic valentines in 1848.
* ‘The Men Who Make the Comic Valentines,’ New York Herald Magazine Section, February 9, 1908. The article mentioned that some rare specimens of comic valentines “are to be found at the Astor Library, in Lafayette Street.”