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History Corner By Pat Ross & Fran Snead


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February 01, 2016

Roses are red.  Violets are blue.  How many times have you seen, written, or received this historic poem on a Valentine card?  Valentine cards in America got a very unique start.  While attending Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, a nineteen year old by the name of Esther Howland received a very decorative and ornate Valentine from a business friend of her father.  Having an entrepreneurial mind set, she believed that she could design them to be better, more decorative, and more creative than the Valentine that she had received and the Valentines that were available in America during that time.  Her father owned a book and stationary store in Massachusetts and this seemed like the perfect place to begin a small business of her own.  She busied herself collecting the best supplies which included real lace, paper lace, fancy ribbons, and floral decorations which she had her father import from England.  After making several samples of cards, she had her brother help sell them on business trips for their father's store.  He returned with preorders for over $5,000 worth of her Valentines which far exceeded her expectations.  Her unique cards ranged in price from $0.05 up to close to $50 for the more elaborate ones.  The demand for her cards outweighed what she was able make herself, so she had to hire many of her friends to help fill the orders.  This began what was known as The New England Valentine Company.  She moved the business to a rented building nearby.  Realizing that her customers wanted a more personalized touch, she published a verse booklet which allowed the customer to choose a verse that he or she wanted for their card.  One of her verses was:

          Oh, could I hear thee once declare,

          That fond affection lives for me,

          Oh, could I once delighted share,

          The sweet return of love from thee.

Her Valentines became known all throughout the United States.  Her business quickly became a production and assembly line set up which grossed between $25,000 and $75,000 a year.  Workers were also able to assemble Valentines in the comforts of their own homes going by Esther's samples.  Not too bad especially for this being in the early 1800s.  After running her business for close to forty years, she chose to retire to care for her ailing father.  She sold her business to the George C. Whitney Company which contiued to use the "Howland" style of cards of which Esther had become famous.  Esther died in 1904 never having been married and remains known today as the "Mother of the American Valentine".  A collection of her Valentines can be seen at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts.  There are many collectors of her cards today which are, in mint condition, worth several hundreds of dollars.

Here at the Center we are very fortunate to be able to enjoy a Christmas tree all year long.  Laura Young, one of our volunteers, always trims the tree throughout the year with very unique decorations.  There are cupids, angels, and Victorian Valentine cards hanging from the tree in honor of Valentine's Day.  You can see a picture of Laura decorating the tree on our website!

Fran Snead

All you need is love.  But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt. - Charles Schulz










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