WORCESTER, Mass. (WBZ NewsRadio) — According to the Worcester Historical Museum, the city was "the center of the commercial valentine industry in the United States"—and they have the works of some of the earliest valentines card makers in their collection.
Exhibit coordinator Vanessa Bumpus said Esther Howland was the first in Worcester to make valentines cards, starting her business in 1848 in the attic of her family home on Summer Street in Worcester. She started making the cards shortly after graduating from Mt. Holyoke, inspired by an English-made valentine she received.
"The inscriptions are very simple," she said. "They usually say 'Be True,' the traditional 'Be My Valentine,' 'My heart belongs to thee,' very traditional, 19th-century sayings."
Bumpus said each card, done in a sentimental or lacy tradition, was unique due to the painstaking process by which they were made. Howland's father ordered fancy papers, laces, and trimmings from France, England, and Germany, and Howland enlisted her friends to help in an assembly line fashion.
"One person's job all day was to put on the lace," Bumpus said. "One person's job all day was to put on the stickers. One person's job all day was to put on different stamps or backing papers. So, no two Howland valentines are ever alike, because maybe your hand got tired, or the sticker shifted a little."
Also in the museum's collection are the cards of two other valentines makers who set up shop in Worcester—Jotham Taft and George Whitney, the latter of whom started the George C. Whitney Valentine Manufacturing Company in 1863 and continued until around the time of the Second World War.
"When Whitney comes along, he's able to print them en masse, so he's been using brighter colors and things because they're being used more as postcards, and regular folded greeting cards," Bumpus said. "Whitney, as things change in society, he's doing a little bit more political stuff, where he has one where a woman is kneeling down to a man asking her to be her valentine because he wants her to have the right to vote."
The museum is free for the month of February, so you can go and see the cards in person—or log on to the museum's website, worcesterhistory.org, to send a historic e-card to your valentine.
(All photos from the Collection of Worcester Historical Museum)