Valentine History & Events in Western MA

Valentine History & Events in Western MA

Esther Howland, a Mt. Holyoke graduate and Worcester native, began designing fancy valentine cards in 1848 and hired young women to help cut and paste together these small works of art. By 1850 she was advertising her cards in the newspaper, and by the 1860s she was selling up to $100,000 worth of valentines annually. – This cloth and lace Valentine card was made by Esther Howland, ca. 1870s.

Every year, Americans exchange an average of 142 million Valentine’s Day cards – making the holiday near the top of the list of holidays where large amounts of cards are exchanged (second only to Christmas). Valentines come in many different shapes and sizes, and can be handmade or store bought, clever and creative, or very traditional. Whatever form they come in, the valentines that we exchange each year have their roots right here in western Massachusetts!

The American valentine industry was started during the mid-19th century by Esther Howland, a Mt. Holyoke graduate and Worcester native. Often called “The Mother of the Valentine,” Howland was inspired by the beautiful, ornate valentines imported from England and suspected that there might be a market for them in the United States, as well. Through her father’s paper company, she sold her first valentines in 1848 and within a few years was able to begin her own business, the New England Valentine Company.

True to Howland’s plan, the valentines sold by the company included lots of lacy, cut paper and fanciful images of all kinds. Today, Mt. Holyoke College’s Archives and Special Collections house a variety of valentines created by Howland’s company. Seen in a video offered by the college, the valentines embody the spirit of the Victorian era with their intricate designs and elaborate decorative features. Eventually, Howland sold her company to a competitor and left the valentine industry. However, her legacy lives on in the tradition that we practice every Valentine’s Day!  Monday, February 10th through the end of the month the Archives & Special Collections will feature a student-curated exhibit case of valentines in the Library’s courtyard (next to Rao’s coffee shop inside the building). You can see examples of many valentines from the Mount Holyoke collection on their valentines Pinterest board.

Esther Howland’s story will be portrayed by Old Sturbridge Village historians throughout this weekend during their “Be Mine: Chocolate and Valentines” celebration, February 8th & 9th, 2014. This two-day event features a portrayal of Esther Howland, old-fashioned chocolate & valentine making, and a display of antique valentines. Additional winter activities include sleigh rides on the Village Common, old-fashioned sledding, exploring historic buildings, engaging with Old Sturbridge Village interpreters, and making hands-on crafts. Children will also enjoy the KidStory exhibit, where they can pretend to be rural New England villagers from the early 19th century. Admission: $24; seniors $22; children 3-17: $8, but free with one full-priced adult admission on weekends through March 30 (no other discounts or coupons apply); children 2 and under: free. Admission includes free parking and a free second-day visit within 10 days.

Families can draw inspiration from Howland’s Victorian valentines to create their own cards at the Wistariahurst Museum’s Victorian Valentine Workshop. Families interested in attending should register for the workshop, which takes place from 1-3pm on Sunday, February 9th at the museum, located at 238 Cabot Street in Holyoke. Participants will get to choose from a variety of arts and crafts materials to make their own of-the-era cards for their favorite friends and family members. $7/person.

The Palmer Historical & Cultural Center will host “Vintage Valentines – Then and Now” at Harmony Hall (2072 Main Street, Three Rivers, MA) on Sunday February 9th from 1-3pm for an informative and creative afternoon where families will be delighted to learn of the local roots of the Valentine as well as have the opportunity to make their own charming creation. This workshop will include a brief history of the Valentine, several pictorials of vintage Valentines and samples of current renditions. A variety of materials will be available to spark creativity to construct your own Valentine card complete with sentimental prose. Call 413-289-9295 or email if you plan on attending so they can have sufficient number of packets of materials on hand. $5/person

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