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Candy Hearts, and Memories

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A penny for your thoughts.”  This expression is hundreds of years old.  It’s a way to ask someone who’s being quiet what’s on their mind.  Did you know there was a time when you could send a postcard for just a penny postage stamp?  In fact, postcards were the most popular method of reaching your Valentine during the early to mid-1910s.  Colorful postcard scenes of flowers, hearts, and cupids were mailed everywhere.  They even beat Hallmark for a few years!   Hallmark Valentines came out in 1913 and were mass-produced by 1916, but during the early 20th century, the penny postcard was king!  

Back then, you didn’t even need to look up someone’s address in order to send them a card.  Just printing the person’s name, town, and state was enough.  Sometimes you added the rural route number as well.  I find it amazing that everything got delivered just fine without all the fuss of zip codes or zip plus 4.  And the post office even lowered its postage rate in the late 1800s!   Stamp prices went down from two cents to one cent in 1889 and remained so until 1917 and the First World War years.  Postal increases are nothing new, but they seem to be coming at us faster and more frequently.  On January 22, 2023, a postcard mailing rate was increased from 45 to 48 cents!

I’ve been thinking about some Valentine memories.  What is Valentine’s Day without those tiny candy conversation hearts?  I would look for them in stores and buy them by the box.  I’d read their heart messages and have certain favorite colors.  Whose idea was the hearts?  

It started in the 1840s as an experiment to make some candy lozenges from a chalky paste.  A pharmacist named Oliver Chase came up with a way to roll pastry into round candy discs.  He came up with an early candy-making machine!  A bit later, his brother Daniel developed a machine that stamped words directly onto the discs with red vegetable dye.  Quite an idea!  The embossed candies were sold in various shapes.  They came as baseballs, watches, and horseshoes and had phrases written on them. The two brothers, Oliver and Daniel, formed the New England Confectionary Company or NECCO.   

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In 1902, hearts first appeared on their candy lineup.  Large confection hearts were a Valentine’s hit in 1911.  They had lengthy messages like “How long shall I have to wait?  Please be considerate,” and could be broken in half and shared.   A man might make conversation by matching up his half heart message with a woman holding the other half.  It was an icebreaker at parties.

Later the candy heart was reduced in size.  Sayings were shortened and became one-liners such as “Be Mine” and “Kiss Me.” (In later years, they included “Text Me” or “Phone Me” to keep up with the times).   NECCO Sweethearts, as they were called, became the most popular non-chocolate candy sold for Valentine’s Day.  It was a sad day when the company declared bankruptcy in 2018 and changed hands.  For two years, there were no candy hearts produced!  No candy hearts in the stores!  But due to popular demand, they made a comeback.  By 2020 Sweethearts returned to grocery shelves and took their place as a Valentine’s must-have!

I’ve also been thinking about those third and fourth-grade Valentine parties.  I remember them well.  It was a time for celebrating with punch, cookies, and paper Valentines.   All week long, we students would bring in our cards.  We’d drop them in the collection box until it was full to overflowing with colorful Valentines.  Maybe I’d have a large pile of cards addressed just to me on the big day! 

Store-bought Valentines came in assortment packs of 24 or 30,  just enough to distribute among a classroom of kids.  In the 1950s and 1960s, they were fun to buy and share.  Back then, it was a true mix of cards with no two alike. Then I had a dilemma.  What card would I pick?  Who would get my favorite one?  What message would be just right for him (or her)?  Sometimes it was hard to decide!  The variety package even included a special card just for the teacher.  

It’s interesting to see how Valentine’s messages and art have changed over the years.  By the 1970s, you might see cards with pictures of Snoopy, Yogi Bear, or even Ronald McDonald.  Nothing says love like a message from Ronald’s friend, the Hamburglar saying, “You stole my heart away!”  By the 1980s, Valentines featured superheroes, comic book characters, TV stars, and music notables.  Today they continue to evolve.  Valentines reflect our ever-changing pop culture.

We’ve come a long way from those early penny postcards.  We’ve outgrown some things.  Cupid isn’t so popular anymore with his little wings and his bow and arrow.   But Valentine’s sentiment is timeless.   Show that you care.  Show that you love. Spend some time thinking of ways to display your affection. Give hugs. Send a Valentine!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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