Introduction: In this article, Gena Philibert-Ortega writes about a Valentine’s Day tradition: candy hearts. Gena is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.”
There’s little doubt that Valentine’s Day is associated with candy. For some, the day means a heart-shaped box filled with chocolates, but for others there are traditional candies that are eagerly anticipated. One of those candies is the heart-shaped Sweethearts candy (also known as conversation hearts). These hard, chalky, pastel-colored candies packaged in individual serving boxes (complete with a place to write the gift giver and recipient’s names) have a 19th century history.
The candies we know as Sweethearts have their origins in “conversation candies” developed by Daniel Chase in 1866. Daniel’s brother Oliver had invented a candy-cutting machine and then Daniel invented the process for printing letters on candies. (1) These original candies, in various shapes, were shared at special events including weddings and birthday parties. (2)
In 1928 a newspaper article reported that the old-fashioned tradition of sharing conversation candies was coming back into style.
This article reported:
The interesting old custom of exchanging “conversation candies,” familiar to every one born in the last century, is coming back into favor. These heart-shaped white candies, printed with affectionate sentiments in pink, are said to have been made first in Boston, back in the middle ’60s [1860s].
Most of us are familiar with the Necco version of the Sweethearts candies. Necco (New England Confectionary Company), a Massachusetts-based candy company, produced the candies for 150 years until their bankruptcy in 2018. It was the “oldest continuously operating multi-line candy company.” Necco. the maker of Sweethearts and the similarly tasting Necco Wafers, turned out two billion of the heart candies a year before they closed for good.
Not Just Candy
The well-known hearts weren’t just for eating. Over their history, their depiction has been found on everything from coffee mugs to a 2004 U.S. postage stamp that showed two candy hearts with letters that spelled out “I Love You.” The first-day ceremony for the 37-cent stamp was held at the Necco candy headquarters.
While Necco was the company most associated with Sweethearts in the iconic box, other companies do produce similar candies, packaged as “motto hearts,” “hearts,” or “conversation candies.”
As times changed, so did the sayings printed on the candy hearts. In 1990 the sayings included “E-Mail Me,” and “Page Me,” as well as the previously retired “One I Love.”
A 2014 newspaper article announced that the hearts would include “Txt Me” and “=Love” while out-of-date sayings like “Fax Me” were retired.
Today’s Sweethearts are made by the Spangler Candy company and include sayings like “UR Cute,” “Love Bug,” “XOXO,” “Wink Wink,” and “Pick Me.”
Happy Valentine’s Day!
What Valentine’s Day memories do you have? Do any of them involve candy? Share your memories in the comments below.
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Note on the header image: candy hearts for Valentine’s Day. Credit: Gena Philibert-Ortega.
(1) “Ode to Sweethearts Conversation Hearts,” New England Today Living (https://newengland.com/today/living/new-england-nostalgia/necco-sweethearts-conversation-hearts/: accessed 9 February 2023).
(2) “Necco History,” Archived on the Wayback Machine (https://web.archive.org/web/20060506195745/http://www.necco.com/AboutUs/History.asp: accessed 6 February 2023).