To My Valentine: From Mr. J.C. Penney

Valentines exchanged by J. C. Penney and his wife over 20 years are in SMU’s DeGolyer Library collection.

J C Penney Valentine's Day Card to his Wife

By Nancy George
SMU News

J C Penney Valentine's Day Card to his WifeDALLAS (SMU) –Legendary retailer J. C. Penney was called “Jimmy” by only one person, his third wife, Caroline. To everyone else he was Mr. Penney.

Her endearing words can be found at SMU in a collection of Valentines the couple exchanged from 1935 to 1955.  J.C. Penney Inc. donated its archives in 2004 to SMU’s DeGolyer Library, which included the store founder’s correspondence, speeches, photographs, travel logs and diaries.

Married for 45 years, J.C. and Caroline selected sentimental and flowery Valentine cards they personalized with pet names such as “Jimmy,” “Dearie” and “My Dear Girl.” J. C. often traveled to oversee his business interests, so many of the cards arrived in the mail instead of being delivered in person. But the pair saved the cards until their deaths.

“The cards demonstrate the couple’s affection, efforts to keep in touch and the evolution of Valentine cards,” says Joan Gosnell, DeGolyer Library archivist.

The JC Penney Collection at DeGolyer Library chronicles the store’s 100-year history.  J.C. Penney Company Inc., headquartered in Plano, Texas, gave the materials to SMU to make them more accessible to the public.

“These significant and timeless materials are valuable to those doing scholarly research, not only in the history of retailing but also in the broader field of American cultural studies,” says Russell Martin, director of DeGolyer Library.

The collection comprises documents on the origin, growth and operations of the J.C. Penney Company and more than 1,400 stores, more than 20,000 photos and advertisements from 1903 to late 1990s. The company’s employee publication, The Dynamo, has recently been digitized

Penney opened his first store in Kemmerer, Wyoming, in 1902. He was the first retailer in America to charge all customers the same price for merchandise. By 1911, 22 stores operated mostly in small towns in Western states. Today, J.C. Penney is one of America’s largest retailers with approximately 1,100 stores.

Born in Hamilton, Missouri, Penney began his retail career in a small dry goods store in his hometown. His papers include records about the company, his farming operations and his various philanthropies. In addition, there are also manuscript collections of Caroline A. Penney, his third wife, and correspondence of one of his nephews. These collections are open and available for research.

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From the collection

J C Penney Valentine's Day Card to his Wife
1958 - Front
J C Penney Valentine's Day Card to his Wife

J C Penney Valentine's Day Card to his Wife
1951 - Front
J C Penney Valentine's Day Card to his Wife


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