Artist Esther Howland (1828–1904) was the first to publish and sell Valentine cards in the United States. Before Esther, many Valentine cards were hand made with paper, lace, and ribbons and handwritten poetry. By the end of the 19th century, most Valentines were mass-produced by machine, many based on Esther’s designs.
The Howland Family operated the largest book and stationery store in Worcester, Massachusetts. As a young student at The Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, Class of 1847, and a contemporary of the poet Emily Dickinson, Esther had been exposed to the annual Valentine celebrations. After graduating at the age of nineteen, she received an intricate English Valentine from one of her fathers’ business acquaintances. She was sure that she was capable of making similar or even better ones.
Persuading her father to order lace paper and other supplies from England and NYC and, with determination, she made a dozen valentine’s samples, which her brother added to his catalog for his next sales trip. Hoping for as much as $200 in orders, they were shocked when her brother returned with more than $5,000 in advance sales, more than she could make herself. Faced with the huge order, she asked her three best friends to help her. A Valentine assembly line was born at the Howland home. In 1879, The New England Valentine Company was born.
Esther is credited with several innovations in valentine design: the small brightly colored wafer of paper placed to give contrast under the white paper lace; and the built-up shadow box that became popular in the latter part of her career. While not the only Valentine’s Day card shop, Howland’s became [Read More…]