The Valentine has been collecting, preserving and interpreting Richmond’s 400-year history for over a century. Located in the heart of historic downtown, the Valentine is a place for residents and tourists to discover the diverse stories that tell the broader history of this important region.
The Valentine (formerly known as the Valentine Museum and then Valentine Richmond History Center) is a private museum in Richmond, Virginia dedicated to the history of the city. The museum opened in 1898 as the Valentine Museum, and changed its name to the Valentine Richmond History Center in 2000 before adopting its current name in 2014. Founded by Mann S. Valentine II, it was the first museum in Richmond. According to its website, the Valentine offers exhibitions that focus on “American urban and social history, costumes and textiles, decorative arts and architecture.” The Valentine also includes the 1812 neoclassical Wickham House, a National Historical Landmark. In 2014, the Valentine completed a $4.1 million renovation of its public exhibition galleries, lobby, museum store and education center.
A comprehensive program of exhibitions, tours, special events, research opportunities, school programs and other public programs engage the broadest audience in an ongoing dialogue about the significance and relevance of the city’s history.
The funds for the museum were provided by Mann S. Valentine II, who made his fortune with Valentine’s Meat Juice, a health tonic made from beef juice invented as early as 1870. In 1874, Mann Valentine published “A Brief History of the Production of Valentine’s Meat Juice Together With Testimonials of the Medical Profession.” This document included recommendations from Medical College of Virginia professors and doctors (e.g., J.B. McCaw and Hunter McGuire), University of Maryland medical professor Richard McSherry, Columbia University gynecology professor Theodore Gaillard Thomas, New York Board of Health resident surgeon Walter Reed, D.W. Yandell, president of the American Medical Association, various members of the Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane, a report by the American Pharmaceutical Association, and a report by pharmaceuticals inventor E. R. Squibb regarding the use of Meat Juice in various settings in the U.S. Army. According to Style Weekly, the beef juice’s “health claims were at best dubious.” Mann and his sons earned their fortune from the Valentine Meat Juice Company.
During the late 19th century, the Valentines began to collect in the fields of archaeology, anthropology, fine arts and decorative arts. Mann laid the foundation for the museum in 1892; when he died in 1893, he provided the original bequest for the Valentine Museum, leaving his collection of art and artifacts, the 1812 John Wickham House and a $50,000 endowment. Their collection of art and artifacts was the foundation of the exhibitions, when the Valentine Museum opened in 1898. Part of the original intent of the founding of the museum was to display these archeological artifacts in perpetuity, after the family was embarrassed by an archeological hoax in North Carolina. When it opened, the Valentine Museum was the first private museum in the City of Richmond
Mann S. Valentine II’s brother Edward Virginius Valentine also had an interest in history and was a well-known sculptor. One of the main early attractions of the Valentine Museum was its cast collection—casts of famous ancient sculptures from around the world. In 1898, Granville Valentine published a list of hundreds of casts owned by the museum. Edward Valentine served as the museum’s first president from the opening until his death in 1930. According to the museum website, Edward Valentine left a large collection of sculpture, papers, furniture and memorabilia to the museum in his will.
In 1924, the museum asked Charleston Museum director Laura Bragg to consult on a reorganization, which got under way four years later. It was the museum’s first major renovation and expansion, and as part of the process the museum purchased three rowhouses adjacent to the Wickham House for the purposes of holding artifacts. The museum then renovated the Wickham house to reflect the circa 1812 period when the first owner, John Wickham and his family lived there.
In the 1950s, the Board of Trustees focused their mission by emphasizing the subtitle,”A Museum of the Life and History of Richmond,” to the Valentine Museum. The subtitle continued into the 1960s
In 1954, the museum rescued the 1840s era Bransford-Cecil house and moved it from 5th street to East Clay street.
On May 20, 1969, the Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission nominated the Valentine Museum buildings to be on the National Register of Historic Places based on the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act. The Valentine Museum received this designation on June 11, 1969
In the 1970s, a major renovation and expansion was undertaken to add a new wing to accommodate more artifacts and increase exhibition space for the public. The Row Houses that served as the primary museums space were renovated and expanded as well.
In 1985, the Valentine famously revitalized by hiring Frank Jewell and took other steps to make the museum more professional and gained the museum national attention The museum worked with several historians to create the Richmond History Project. This raised the museum’s stature in the national museum circuit owing to its method of forcing visitors to confront more controversial aspects of the city’s history, such as racism. In 1988, the Museum worked with Mary Tyler McGraw, formerly of the Afro-American Communities project at the National Museum of American History to develop an exhibit called “In Bondage and Freedom” and engaged scholars with knowledge of social and Afro-American history. Under Jewell’s leadership, many of the museum’s exhibits were reviewed by scholarly history journals.
In 1994, a 10-year restoration of the 1812 John Wickham House, formerly called the Wickham-Valentine House was completed. Additionally, Jewell’s Valentine Riverside initiative (expanding the museum to a second site at Tredegar Iron Works) had brought the museums finances to its knees. Jewell resigned in 1995 and was replaced by Bill Martin.
In October 2000, the museum initiated an identity change in for the institution to better reflect its role within the community. With a reputation as Richmond’s history center, the name was changed to Valentine Richmond History Center.
In August 2014, the museum changed its name to the Valentine and adopted the subtitle “Richmond Stories.” In October 2014, the Valentine completed renovations to its public exhibition galleries. The renovations features more accessible gallery spaces and a new education center, lobby, and multi-purpose room.
In July 2015, the Valentine took over management of the First Freedom Center.
The museum is broken out into several permanent exhibits that cover different topics, such as Richmond’s history, culture and government, sculptures from Edward V. Valentine and the Wickham House collection. A “Signs of the Times” exhibit displays vintage business signs and a “Costume and Textile” exhibit shows vintage clothes.
The Valentine has been collecting, preserving and interpreting the history of Richmond, Virginia since 1894. The collection is the largest and finest collection of primary source material for researching and interpreting the history of Richmond. With a focus on the history of Richmond, the museum houses a unique and spectacular collection of objects, papers and textiles that document the city’s complex history. You’ll be able to enjoy some items from the collection in our exhibits, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
The Valentine has several rotating exhibitions that include photographs, clothes and textiles and historical based exhibits that impacted Richmond in a significant way.
This Is Richmond, Virginia
What defines a city? Physical boundaries? People? Economy? Government? Shared beliefs? Richmond is defined by all of these concepts. No one aspect is greater than the other. Together, they create this unique place we call Richmond, Virginia. Richmond is also defined by artifacts, which convey meaning and tell stories. They are collected as silent witnesses of the past and present. The objects in this exhibition have passed through many hands to create personal stories. Collectively, these artifacts help to tell the community’s larger history.
The Valentine First Freedom Center Exhibitions and Monument
The Valentine First Freedom Center, located at the corner of S. 14th and E. Cary Streets in historic Shockoe Slip, houses 2,200 square feet of exhibitions that delve into America’s experience of religious liberty from its European antecedents through today. A room for traveling exhibitions and updatable modules allows flexibility to highlight historical as well as contemporary events. Physically connected to a Marriott Residence Inn, the exhibits enjoy access to meeting space for forums and conferences. Outside, a 27-foot spire, a limestone wall etched with the enacting paragraph of the Statute, and a 34-foot banner of a seminal Jefferson quote imprint the importance of the “first freedom” on all who come upon that busy corner.
The Valentine First Freedom Center is open Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and is free and open to the public.
Signs of the Times
The Valentine is known for its antique, vintage and contemporary collections. Our neon signs from Richmond businesses illustrate commercial growth and advertising trends. Mounted outdoors overlooking the Gray Family Terrace. We encourage you to come by after dusk to see them lit up!
Creating History: The Valentine Family and the Creation of a Museum
A new interpretation of this popular exhibition, Creating History is now viewable on the second floor of the 1812 Wickham House and features additional objects from the Valentine’s founding collection across five gallery spaces. The exhibition explores the Valentine family’s collecting enterprises, Valentine’s Meat Juice, and ways in which the Museum’s interpretation of Richmond’s history has evolved over the last 120 years.
The 1812 John Wickham House
A dialogue-based guided tour of the 1812 Wickham House, a National Historic Landmark, encourages guests to explore aspects of life in the early 19th century. The Wickham House was purchased by Mann Valentine Jr. and in 1898 became the first home of the Valentine Museum. In the public first-floor rooms, nationally-recognized neo-classical interiors helped the Wickham family and their enslaved servants present a lifestyle of taste and refinement. The Wickham House cellars open in April 2017 with new hands-on history interactive chests exploring everyday life above and below stairs as well as a short film, Shared Spaces: Separate Lives.
Edward V. Valentine Sculpture Studio
You probably know his work even if you don’t know his name. Edward Virginius Valentine (1838-1930) was a prominent sculptor whose works included the Recumbent Lee statue at Washington & Lee University, and the statue of Thomas Jefferson at the Jefferson Hotel. His studio is one of only four surviving 19th century sculpture studios in the United States that is open to the public. A visit to this restored studio offers a glimpse into the mind of the artist and into his times.
Nuestras Historias: Latinos in Richmond
There are approximately 100,000 Latinos in the Richmond metropolitan area who represent a wide range of backgrounds and experiences. As Latinos immigrate to Richmond, they establish permanent ties to their new home and begin to transform its culture. Through interviews, objects and images, Nuestras Historias: Latinos in Richmond documents the region’s diverse Latino experience.
Our Hearts on Our Sleeves
Drawing on the Valentine’s extensive collection of historic and contemporary costume and textiles, Our Hearts On Our Sleeves celebrates Richmond’s devotion to diverse creative expression. The fashion and fiber arts have long played an important role in Richmond’s creative community, enlivening Richmond’s streets, shops, galleries, museums, and performance spaces. Codes of dress and works of art have both been employed to communicate or challenge cultural values and to reinforce or subvert social structures. Embedded within these tools of identity construction is a dual nature that invites dynamic exchange about both the personal and the communal experience.
Our Hearts on Our Sleeves examines Richmond’s longstanding infatuation with the arts as articulated through individual style and communal support of avant-garde fashion and fiber art. Like the murals that adorn the city’s buildings, textiles adorn citizen’s bodies uniting artistic expression with self-actualization, creativity with civic service, and traditional techniques with profound irreverence.