Esther Howland, the Mother of the American Valentine

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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 off Esther’s designs.

Esther was inspired by an English Valentine she received from a friend of her father’s when she was 19. By this time, mass-produced Valentines of paper lace were already popular in the U.K., with almost half the population spending money on cards, flowers, chocolates, and other gifts for their Valentines.

Esther loved her Valentine so much, she began importing the paper lace and other materials she needed from England to make her own cards. She made a dozen samples and gave them to her brother, a salesman for their father’s stationey store.

Shocked when her brother returned from his sales trip with over $5,000 worth of orders for her cards, Esther started hiring friends for her new business in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Esther’s Valentines grew famous around the country, and she began to be called “The Mother of the American Valentine”. In 1881 when Esther was 53 she eventually sold her business, which had grown incredibly successful, grossing over $100,000 per year.

Valentine by Esther Howland

Valentine by Esther Howland

Esther Howland Valentine, circa 1850

Esther Howland Valentine, circa 1850: "Weddings now are all the go, Will you marry me or no"?

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About KeriLynn Engel

KeriLynn Engel is a Connecticut freelance writer, professional blogger for hire, and author of Amazing Women In History: 20 inspiring stories of women the history books left out.

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  1. Nuala says

    A fascinating piece of history. Before Esther produced her cards, would people in America make their own, or had Valentine’s Day yet to take off as a popular event?

    • says

      Hi Nuala, great question! Valentine’s Day was very popular in America and Europe at the time, and in America wood engraved or lithographic Valentines were available but most were handwritten paper cards. Some Americans imported the elaborate paper lace and ribbon Valentines popular in Europe, but they were incredibly expensive! So by the time Esther started manufacturing her Valentine cards, there was a huge market excited & ready to buy them.

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