Esther Howland: The Origins of American Valentine’s Day Cards

Esther Howland is considered the “Mother of the American Valentine.” Her company, started at the ripe age of 19, was conceived when she “received a fancy English valentine from an admirer in 1847, and she was inspired to start the first American valentine company. She hired friends to help make the valentines around her parents’ dining room table. Esther designed the cards… Soon, Esther’s New England Valentine Company was making thousands of dollars a year.” (Samantha’s Friendship Fun, 2002). Born in Worcester, Massachusetts and daughter of Esther Howland Allen, author of The New England Economical Housekeeper, a cookbook including original recipes of New England clam chowder, salt cod, and Boston pudding. Her mother adopted a famous phrase from Thomas Jefferson, “Never buy what you do not want because it is cheap.” This philosophy of living likely inspired Esther Howland to focus on what was truly special to her, which was designing beautiful Valentine’s Day cards.

The house that Esther lived at in Worcester, MA.

Since Valentine’s Day cards were not considered affordable to Americans yet, Esther was determined to create economical and beautiful designs to democratize access to Valentines! This was a highly innovative concept for the time and Esther’s commitment and passion to seeing her company thrive has made her the “mother” of American valentines. She made a dozen samples of her cards and her brother, who was a salesman, took them with him on his sales trip. Expecting $200 in orders, she received $5,000 in orders. She knew this would be a success. A guest bedroom in her family home was used for the operations and she hired women where she spread the work to be “light and pleasant,” as all of the cards were handmade. She was the first to create the commercialization process for Valentine’s Day cards. She imported materials for her cards from Germany and she also thought of using silk and embossing cards. Eventually, she sparked competition! The original New England Valentine Company is America’s first ever valentine’s card producer. Thank you, Esther!

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