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Valentines In the U.S. — It all Started Here

Worcester, MA, the once-bustling industrial metropolis 45 minutes west of Boston, where I dwell, is enormously happy with its quite peculiar checklist of “famous firsts”, including barbed wire, shredded wheat, the monkey wrench, the birth control pill, the first perfect recreation in major league baseball, the first liquid-fueled rocket and the ubiquitous yellow Smiley Face icon (starring in a quickly-to-be printed tell-all e-book “The Saga of Smiley”, printed by the Worcester Historical Museum and written by me.

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And every year, about this time, you hear about how Worcester produced the first business valentines in this country because of a foresighted young girl named Esther Howland, known as the “Mother of the Valentine.”

The initial demand for her valentines was overwhelming and Esther gathered some of her friends to help her assemble the valentines, seating them around a protracted table on the third flooring of her dwelling. The company was finally earning $100,000 — a phenomenal success.

Esther is considered significant because, based on historians, she was among the first commercially successful women overseeing a female-run business, and she mainly created the assembly-line system, paying the native ladies “liberally”.

She introduced layers of lace, three-dimensional accordion effects, and insisted that the verses be hidden inside, something you needed to hunt for. She had her staff mark the back of each valentine with a red “H”.

In the Victorian era, Valentines had been wildly fashionable and the frilly cards have been scrutinized for clues — even the place of the stamp on the envelope meant one thing. Often the valentine was intended as a marriage proposal.

“The last week has been a merry one in Amherst, & notes have flown around like snowflakes. Ancient gentlemen & spinsters, forgetting time & multitude of years, have doffed their wrinkles – in trade for smiles…”

In 1879 — after 30 years in enterprise–Esther merged with Edward Taft, the son of Jotham Taft, a North Grafton valentine maker. Together they formed the new England Valentine Co. (and their cards were marked “N.E.V.Co.”)

This is where Esther Howland’s title of “Mother of the Valentine” begins to get somewhat shaky.
It seems, upon a lot research, that Edward Taft’s father, Jotham Taft of North Grafton, a small village close to Worcester, began the business valentine enterprise in the U.S. even before Miss Howland did, however he did not prefer to discuss it because the Taft family were strict Quakers and Jotham Taft’s mother sternly disapproved of such frivolity as Valentines. (Full disclosure — I live stone island jumper small in North Grafton, a couple of stone’s throw from the place Taft worked.)

In 1836, Jotham Taft married Stone Island Outlet Sarah E. Coe of Rhode Island and two years later they welcomed twin sons. But in 1840, one of the twins died all of a sudden, leaving Mrs. Taft prostrate with grief. Jotham decided to take his wife and surviving son to Europe with him on a buying journey for the stationer who employed him, and while in Germany, he purchased many valentines supplies — laces, lithographs, birds and cupids.

When he returned, Taft began making valentines along with his spouse’s assist, and in 1844–three years before Esther Howland graduated from faculty–he opened a valentine “factory” in North Grafton (then called New England Village.) But because of his mother’s disapproval, Taft never put his own name on the valentines — only “Wood” (his center identify) or “N.E.V.” for “New England Village”. Some believed that Taft educated Elizabeth Howland as one among his workers before she opened her own factory

Taft and Howland merged into the new England Valentine Co. in 1879 and a year later, Esther’s father grew to become in poor health and she left her business to care for him. After he died, she moved in with considered one of her brothers and she passed away in 1904.

Unfortunately, despite all the couples who presumably found their true love thanks to Esther’s creations, the “Mother of the Valentine” never married.

In 1881, George C. Island Whitney bought the combined business of Taft and Howland and it became The Whitney Co, which dominated valentine production for many years. Instead of cards laboriously made by hand, Whitney turned to machine- printed valentines and eventually added postcards in the 1890’s. The designs, featuring children who resembled the “Campbell Soup ” kids, were wildly popular, although more often exchanged by children than adult lovers, and in 1942 the Whitney manufacturing facility closed, because of wartime paper shortages

(The valentines above, from my collection, are German and English-made — sadly not by Howland or Taft.)

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Valentines In the U.S. — It all Started Here

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Ben Franklin
In 1778, attempting to raise money for our revolt, Ben pranced round Paris in frontier drag–full-on Daniel Boone, coonskin cap and all–showing the French what they expected to see: the self-invented American. This mummery drove John Adams to his therapy couch (aka, his letters to Abigail) where he fumed about disgraceful “public men” (i.e.media whores). In the long run, a totally enraged Adams fled Paris, while Franklin carried on, eventually securing the money and alliance that received the war.

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