Posted by: digicollage | February 11, 2009

Awesome Feme

Found this on my daily jont over to History Hoydens (

All Hail Queen (of Hearts) Esther Howland

Esther who?

With florists and jewelers doing a land-office business around February 14, sooner or later, someone was bound to see the commercial potential in romantic greeting cards. And who has the time to make each missive with their loving hands?

The visionary was Esther Howland (1828-1904), a Worcester Massachusetts native and Mount Holyoke graduate who never married. But of course Jane Austen never wed either, and one could never accuse her of not knowing a thing or two about romance.

A classmate of Emily Dickinson’s, Howland graduated from Mount Holyoke in 1847 at the age of 19. When she received an ornate English Valentine from a business associate of her father’s, her heart skipped a beat—because she saw dollar signs.

Her family owned Worcester’s largest stationery and book store, so she already had connections. Esther created a dozen prototypes of her Valentines and gave them to her brother to include in his sample book. When he returned from his business trip with more than $5,000 in orders, Esther realized she wasn’t going to be able to process all those orders alone. So she started up her own greeting card business, importing machine-embossed paper lace (think doilies) and floral decorations from England, and employing her female friends to manufacture Valentines using the process and techniques of an assembly line (take that, Henry Ford!)

On February 5, 1850 she took out her first advertisement in a Worcester paper, The Daily Spy.

Soon, things were booming; in 1879, Howland’s company was named the New England Valentine Company (her valentines usually have a NEV CO on a red sticker on the back); and the little cottage industry moved from Esther’s family home to a building of its own. She published a thirty-one-page book of verses and allowed her clients to chose their own poem for their valentines.

Esther Howland became known as the “Mother of the American Valentine” and her company brought in annual revenues of $100,000. The decades between 1840 and 1860 were the golden age for sentimental Valentines. Even after they caught on in America, the perforated lace paper used for making them was still manufactured only in England, so Esther continued to import the lace-edged “blanks” for her company’s cards. But she introduced several innovations of her own to the Valentine-making industry: she is credited with the idea of placing a thin sheet of colored paper under the white paper lace, to produce a contrast, as well as with the concept of a three-dimensional “shadow box” card.

A recurrent knee knjury forced Esther to work from a wheelchair since 1866. And in 1881, Howland sold the business to the George C. Whitney Company so she could care for her ailing father.

No matter if you love or hate this holiday, you’ve gotta be impressed by the business chops and creativity of this lady!
Have a great day,


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