Mother of the American Valentine + A Giveaway

Did you know that the American Valentine greeting card business was started by a woman in 1847? Not only that, but she ran her extremely profitable business out of her home and employed other women in assembly-line craftsmanship years before Henry Ford made the business model famous.

Esther Howland was a college-educated woman who also happened to be the daughter of a stationer and bookseller. The year she graduated from the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in 1847, she received an English Valentine from one of her father’s associates. At this time, such cards were imported from Europe and very expensive. They would only be available for the wealthy elite. Yet, as she looked at this card, her entrepreneurial mind saw possibilities. Have you ever found something in a store with an outrageous price tag and thought, “I could make that for a fraction of the cost”? Well, Esther not only had that thought, but she created a business plan.

She asked her father to order lace paper, paper flowers, and other supplies from Europe, then she set about creating her own designs. When she had a dozen, she presented them to her brother who reluctantly agreed to take them with him on his next sales trip. She hoped to receive perhaps $200 worth of orders. She received $5,000!

She dedicated a room in her home as her manufacturing shop, recruited her friends to help, and got to work. She would create the patterns for each piece of the valentine, then pass them off to the other girls to duplicate. Each one would be in charge of a certain piece of the multi-layered card. By 1849, the assembly line had been perfected and her business was born. She began to advertise and eventually expanded into the Christmas and birthday card market as well. Her basic cards sold for five cents. Her more elaborate designs containing hidden doors, ribbon trimmings, and gilded lace would sell for as much as one dollar.

In 1870, she incorporated the New England Valentine Company, but she  continued running the business out of her home until 1879 when she moved it into a factory. She even allowed customized verse. All of her cards included four lines of poetic verse. However, if you fell in love with a particular card design but didn’t care for the verse, you could purchase The New England Valentine Co.’s Valentine Verse Book and simply cut one you like better from the 131 available in the book and paste it over the verse that didn’t suit. Clever woman!

********** GIVEAWAY **********

In honor of Valentine’s Day and clever women who create romantic masterpieces, I’d like to invite you to a Facebook party and offer a chance to win one of three fantastic Valentine prizes.

Sixteen fabulous historical authors are coming together to celebrate romance on Feb 13-14. We’ll be chatting live with readers during this party, and I’d love to see you there. My time slot is
7:00 pm CST on Feb 14th.

Click here to join the party.

Not only are we chatting at the party, but from now until the end of the party, there is a HUGE giveaway going on.

One winner will receive a $100 Amazon Gift Card.

Another winner will receive a copy of each of the 16 highlighted books – all romantic reads fit for an extended Valentine escape.

And a final winner will receive this fun Jane Austen inspired book bag.

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Click here to enter the giveaway.

Have you ever made a Valentine by hand?

What is the best Valentine’s gift you ever received?

Karen Witemeyer
For those who love to smile as they read, bestselling author Karen Witemeyer offers warmhearted historical romance with a flair for humor, feisty heroines, and swoon-worthy Texas heroes. Karen is a firm believer in the power of happy endings. . . and ice cream. She is an avid cross-stitcher, and makes her home in Abilene, TX with her husband and three children. Learn more about Karen and her books at: www.karenwitemeyer.com.

31 Comments

  1. Of my goodness! I never would have thought giftcards went that far back and handmade at that! Awesome blog! I can’t wait for the on line party but I can’t get either link on this blog to work right now so I’ll have to remember to come back and try again. This single disabled momma would love that giftcard or all those romantic reads for Valentine’s Day!!!

    1. Sorry you are having trouble with the links, Stephanie. I just clicked on them myself and they opened new windows just fine. Perhaps try a different browser? Hope to see you at the party next week!

    2. I forgot, we used to make homemade valentines as kids. I always enjoyed getting flowers from my father and husband on Valentine’s Day.

    3. I also had trouble…the links seem not to be working on devices…? I used my home computer and it worked then. 😉

      1. How odd that they won’t work on devices. Sorry about the trouble, Rachel. Glad you found a way to get it to work.

        1. I’m using an android phone and still can’t get either link. Can you add me to the party? Karen?

          1. I just sent you an invite through FB messenger, Stephanie. Hopefully that will work for you.

  2. This is a wonderful blog. I make my own greeting cards. Yes I have made many Valentines cards. Looking forward to next week. Thanks.

    1. I love that you make your own cards, Lori. My daughter does that. It’s such a personal, heartfelt endeavor. A special treasure in a world of digital communication.

  3. Yes, I’ve made many Valentines and I enjoy being able to personalize the feelings that I have for the recipient. Thanks for a great post and being part of this giveaway.

    1. How lovely, Connie. I have to admit that I haven’t made a handcrafted Valentine in years.

  4. Esther Howl and was one savvy business woman. Thanks for the post. Very interesting.

    1. I imagine she would have made a fortune on Etsy. 🙂

  5. Karen, thank you for sharing this interesting post!

    1. You’re welcome, Caryl. I love learning about women in history who make their mark in interesting ways. This was a fun discovery for me, too. 🙂

  6. I’m a papercrafter and can make some pretty cute and unique Valentine’s cards.

    When my husband and I were dating, he gave me a heart locket for Valentine’s Day.

    1. Nice, Denise! I bet they’re gorgeous. I bet you still have that heart locket, too. 🙂

  7. I remember making Valentine boxes for ourselves from shoe boxes, when I was young. And in 5-6 grade we made a box for the whole class. Can’t remember any special Valentine present. I do remember getting fabric for a quilt I was making.
    Since I don’t get out much any more, winning the prize would be great. I can’t remember the last time I went to the library.

    1. Valentine was always a big holiday in schools. All those cute cartoon valentines and that awful chalky candy. Ha! I think we went through a handful of shoe boxes ourselves for those parties.

  8. What a cool story! I had never heard of Esther Howland and her company until today! I’m off to Google her and find out what happened to her and the New England Valentine Company!

    To answer your questions, I’ve made homemade Valentines but nothing with gorgeous lace and Victorian people on it! Esther’s designs are far superior to mine, lol.

    Is it sad that I can’t remember what my best Valentine gift was? I guess the saying is true that you remember people more than you remember things! 😉

    1. That just means you have your priorities in the right place, Karen. People over things every time. 🙂 I couldn’t find any information about Esther marrying. I kind of want to write her a romantic hero for all those romantic valentines she created for others. Maybe she found her Valentine, and I just didn’t dig enough. I hope so.

  9. Wonderful information, Karen! Since I was born on Valentine’s Day, it’s always been a special holiday to me – ha ha!!! My parents always made it a big deal, my mom especially! I had big, elaborate birthday parties (in my mind, at least!) and everything was homemade! We always made homemade Valentine’s to take to school and give to friends & family while I was growing up! When I had kids, we did fun things for Valentine’s Day too. I have no idea what my favorite gift was because every year was so special for me since it was my birthday! However, the year I turned 10, my dad (who is very quiet) wrote me a poem and it was the most beautiful thing ever! I had no idea he could do something like that! It will always be a prized possession of mine!

    1. What a treasure to have that poem, Valri! I love that your dad did that for you. Have a wonderful Valentine birthday next week!

  10. I love making my own cards. Have made quite a few Valentines. I never knew this little piece of card history though. Very interesting.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Donna. I admire crafty people who take the time to make their own cards. Lovely!

  11. I have made many Valentines by hand. I am almost finished with about 90 I am making for one of the local Veteran hospital units. We will be distributing those and others next week. Will also be making a few for veterans in several of the local nursing homes.
    Best Gift? She was a day late, but our second daughter was born on the 15th.

    1. I’m so impressed with your Valentine Veteran gift, Patricia. What a thoughtful endeavor. And what a blessing your Valentine baby must have been. 🙂

  12. WOW! I never heard about how these cards were made. I love it and thanks for sharing. We should have made homemade Valentines cards for the Posse!!!

    1. We should have! Too bad I didn’t do this research earlier. Ha! Maybe we can try to remember for next year. Good idea, Pam!

  13. WOW! I never heard about how these cards were made. We should have made homemade Valentines cards for the Posse!!!

  14. Very interesting post Karen.
    Yes, I have made Valentines cards and make other cards as well.
    Blessings, Tina

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