Time is Money
The American valentine industry began in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1848. Before then, valentines were either imported from Europe or handmade. A combination of technological advances and high demand led to the establishment of numerous manufacturing companies dedicated to creating cards for the new American holiday.
Born in 1828, Esther Howland was the first major manufacturer of valentines in the United States. Inspired by an English valentine she had received in 1847, shortly after graduating from Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (today Mount Holyoke College), Howland set out to create her own. Howland's father, a well-established stationer in Worcester, ordered supplies from Europe, and her brother sold her creations across New England. Howland’s designs were an instant success. By utilizing an assembly line mode of production, Howland was able to save time and resources, making more cards for greater profit.
George Clarkson Whitney was one of Howland’s biggest rivals. His older brother Sumner opened a wholesale stationery store in Worcester in 1858, which was later renamed The Whitney Valentine Company. Whitney began his foray into the family valentine business in post-Civil War America. This was a time of extraordinary growth for the industry, thanks in large part to the efforts of Howland and other early manufacturers, who first popularized valentines and the more widespread celebration of Valentine’s Day. In addition to its pleasing designs, the company’s success is also attributable to Whitney’s decision to invest in paper embossing machinery and manufacture his own paper lace, instead of relying on expensive imports. By 1888, Whitney had bought out ten competitors, including Howland. Throughout Whitney’s career, The Whitney Valentine Company branched out from Worcester, with offices in New York, Boston, and Chicago. At the company’s height in the 1890s, The Whitney Valentine Company employed one hundred seventy-five full-time workers and four hundred fifty part-time workers in a 75,000 square foot factory.
Valentine manufacturers such as Howland and Whitney relied heavily on the work of lithographers, who supplied them with small, decorative images known as scraps and other colorful printed materials. Boston-based printer Louis Prang popularized the use of chromolithography for commercial color printing, from more or less realistic reproductions of oils paintings by old European masters to greeting cards. To create their prints, lithographers used a variety of colored inks, each printed from a separate limestone plate. Because of the time required to let each color dry, multicolored cards took many days to complete. However, the process allowed for more detail and higher quality. Known as the “Father of the American Christmas Card,” Prang also printed a great number of affordable, postcard-style valentines.