I find it amazing that one woman, Esther Howland, is held responsible for the creation of our modern day Valentine's Day Card. It goes to show one person really can accomplish incredible things.
In the mid-1800's, with technological advances and the availability of paper, Esther is credited with several innovations in Valentine design. One was the small brightly colored wafer of paper placed beneath, to give contrast under the white paper lace; another was the built-up shadow box.
It all began through the family business. Esther's family operated the largest bookstore and stationery store in Worchester, Massachusetts. Born in the same time period as poet Emily Dickenson, the young girl received a beautifully intricate English Valentine and was inspired. She persuaded her Dad to order lace paper and other supplies to make some sample cards, which her brother added to the store's catalog. They were only expecting $200 in advance orders and were shocked when $5,000 worth of her home made cards were pre-ordered.
Since Esther couldn't make that many cards all by herself, she asked three of her best friends to help out. In this way a Valentine's Day Card assembly line was born. Esther placed her first ad in the local paper in 1850. The business grew and in a short time The New England Valentine Company was born. Her cards were so greatly in demand, she quickly rented a small building for the business.
While other companies competed for sales to the public, none could compete with the value, taste, and style of Esther Howland. Her cards set the trend for years. While she was not the first to create Valentine cards in America, she is credited with having popularized the lace Valentine and turning it into a major industry.
The business flourished despite her semi-retirement in 1866, when a recurring knee injury forced her to use a wheelchair. When her father fell ill in 1881, she sold her business to George Whitney, in order to care for her father. George Whitney continued to pattern many of their cards in the Howland Style. Esther died in Quincy, Massachusetts in 1904 -- never having married. The honor, The Mother of the American Valentine appeared in a newspaper article shortly after her death.
To see more wonderful postal stuff, visit Gemma at Greyscale Territory at Weekend Mailbox!