The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

February 14, 2014

February 14, 1910

Esther Howland (1828–1904) graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 1847. Mount Holyoke has not forgotten her though most others have. According to that institution, "The U.S. commercial Valentine industry owes its success to Esther Howland," We are indebted to them for the pictures and information below. Here is one of the valentines Howland made (1870) :


And here is the story behind it:

Shortly after graduating from Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (now Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA) in 1847, Howland was inspired to create her own elaborate renditions of the greeting card by an ornate English valentine sent to her by a family friend. According to the American Antiquarian Society, she was fascinated with the idea of making similar valentines, and she arranged with her father—who owned the largest book and stationery store in Worcester, Massachusetts—to have paper lace, floral decorations, and other materials sent to her from England.

Before long, she was recruiting friends to help her fill the mounting orders and had transformed a room in her home into a valentine factory. In fact, she used the assembly line technique long before Henry Ford adopted the process to mass-produce cars. Soon, Howland’s valentine operation was a thriving business grossing $100,000 annually.

Although many chroniclers of Howland's popularization of the American valentine dwell on the fact that she never married, she rarely receives credit as a successful entrepreneur.

Many of Howland’s design innovations are still used on cards today. These include the lift-up flap with a message beneath it, hand-painted silk and satin centers, and intricate folding.

Here is another card made about 1910, and in the same collection, labeled collected by Howland and others.

Those flowers are peonies. The college acquired these among a lot of valentines because they were 
....[d]onated by card collector Marjorie Eames in 1993... [T]he Mount Holyoke valentine collection spans the 1840s to the 1980s and contains several original valentines made by Howland's New England Valentine Co.

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