February is here and romance is in the air. Heart-shaped boxes of chocolate, dinner with your sweetheart and the ever-popular Valentine’s Day card make for an exciting celebration. The day is not just for adults. Children join in on the fun, too. Some have parties at school, where they feast on cookies and small candies and create their own cards to give to their parents. Teenagers celebrate by sending secret Valentine’s to their friends. The chocolate we enjoy today originated with the cacao bean, which made its way around the world and eventually came to the United States via Europe. Cocoa powder was sold in small tins. Folks used the powder to make a warm, tasty drink before devising methods to make chocolate cakes and candies. As for the Valentine’s Day card that we know today, that originated in Europe, too.
As early as the 1700’s, people gave Valentine’s Day cards to their sweethearts. The cards were handwritten on plain paper. By the 1820’s, paper specifically made for Valentine’s Day cards was marketed. Using this type of paper became fashionable in both Britain and the United States. Britain adopted commercial postal rates in the 1840’s and the use of commercially produced Valentine’s Day cards grew. The cards were constructed of flat sheets of paper, printed with colorful illustrations and embossed borders, folded and sealed with wax. One such card made its way to Esther A. Howland in Worcester, Massachusetts. According to legend, the card Esther received inspired her to create the American Valentine’s Day greeting card.
Esther’s father was a stationer. She approached him with the card and an idea to make her own cards. Her father agreed and she made some sample cards, sent them out with her brother with the notion if she received orders for the cards, the amount ordered would be low, maybe two hundred cards. She was wrong. The order she received was for five thousand cards. Creating an assembly line on the third floor of her home, she hired her friends to help produce and fill the order. Two years later, she went into business for herself, opening the New England Valentine Company.
The sending of commercially produced Valentine’s Day cards grew throughout the 1850’s. During the Civil War, the amount of cards sent declined, but after the war, the amount escalated. Sending Valentine’s Cards turned into a big business.
Ester kept her company flourishing for forty years. She eventually sold her business to George C. Whitney in 1888. She never married and today some of her cards are still in existence. Collectors are always on the lookout for them. If found and in mint condition, collectors pay anywhere from $300 to $400 for one. (And you thought roses were expensive, lol)
Happy Valentine’s Day! Enjoy your day with the ones you love.