The Business of Love: Early Paper Lace Valentine's

by Molly Donnermeyer


Valentine's Day , Valentine , paper lace , Mary R. Schiff Library and Archives

This month on view at the Mary R. Schiff Library and Archives are some early examples of paper lace valentines. These valentines are similar in style to the work of Esther A. Howland, who is known for the popularization of Valentines in the United States in the 19th Century. After graduating from Mount Holyoke, Esther received an elaborate card with a border of fine lace paper, decorated with colored flowers that had been cut out and pasted on. The center of the card had a small decorative pocket which contained a love note. During this time Esther’s family ran a large stationary business, and she was inspired to create her own designs. These intricate notes were so popular that the first year they were available the family firm received orders that amounted to over five thousand dollars (over $100,000 in today’s money).

As the admiration for Howland’s valentines spread, the business increased at a rapid pace. Esther continued to create new designs, and streamlined the process through which they were made by developing an assembly line of young female workers. The business operations were carried out of the third floor of Howland’s home until the 1870’s when she renamed it the New England Valentine Company, and moved to a workroom a few blocks away. Eventually the company was bought by several of Howland’s employees.

Today valentines are often less intricate, but no less in demand. Last year close to 180 million valentines were bought in the United States.