Valentines and love tokens were introduced to America by the Pennsylvania Germans in the mid-eighteenth century, but the custom of sending tokens of affection to lovers and friends dates from pagan times, when the Romans, noticing that birds begin to mate in the middle of February, established the Feast of Lupercalia, dedicated to the gods Pan and Juno. In the eighteenth century, popular forms of handmade valentines included a penned message with a decorative folded border and verses on the folds; exquisite cutwork resembling lace, with watercolor decorations of pierced hearts, lovebirds, and flowers; and folded puzzle purses, with verses revealed as the folds were opened in sequence. Pinpricks, lover's knots, and labyrinths were common elements and motifs.
This envelope, folded like a puzzle, is also inscribed with text: "My Dear this heart / That you behold, / Will break when you / These leaves unfold, / So my poor heart / With love's sick pain, / Sore Wounded is / And breaks in twain."
Sarah Newlin may have been related to Nicholas Newlin, a Quaker who came to Pennsylvania from England or Ireland in 1682 and settled in Concord. A grant from William Penn gave him a huge tract of land in Chester County; his descendants sold land in what became Newlin Township. There were other Newlins in Philadelphia, in Pennsylvania's Chester and Delaware Counties, and in the Carolinas. The Chester County portion of the United States census lists no Sarah Newlin before 1850. In the 1850 census, there was a Sarah Newlin in Westtown, Chester County, age sixty-seven, who lived with families bearing other names. References to three different Sarah Newlins appear in the Westtown School's comprehensive catalog covering the years 1799 to 1945. One, from Concord, was enrolled in 1801; another, from Middlebury, was enrolled in 1837; and a third was appointed to the Westtown Committee in 1795.
Lee Kogan, "Love Token for Sarah Newlin, with Envelope," in Stacy C. Hollander, American Anthem: Masterworks from the American Folk Art Museum (New York: Harry N. Abrams in association with American Folk Art Museum, 2001), 301.