15    Feb 20130 comments

Valentine’s Day: 1 billion cards

A card by Esther Rowland Courtesy Mount Holyoke College

How many valentines did you receive this year? How many did you send?

Some 190 million valentines are sent each year, according to the US Greeting Card Association. If you count the cards made by schoolchildren, it goes up to 1 billion. And, in 2010, some 15 million e-valentines were sent!

The American tradition of sending valentines was the idea of Esther Rowland (1828-1904), a young graduate of Mount Holyoke College (Massachusetts).

Holyoke's archives and special collections has an impressive collection of historic valentines, many created by Esther. She is credited with having established the commercial valentine industry in the US.

The school’s original name was the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, and Esther graduated in 1847. She was inspired by an ornate English valentine - sent by a family friend – to create her elaborate versions of the greeting card.

According to the American Antiquarian Society, she was fascinated with the idea of making similar cards. Her father, who owned the largest book and stationery store in the city of Worcester, arranged to have paper lace, floral decorations and other materials sent to her from England.

She began taking orders and quickly needed to recruit friends to help keep up with the demand. In 1850, she began to advertise in a local newspaper and eventually turned her home-based assembly line operation in her home into a business making $100,000 annually. In 1881, she retired and sold the business to the George C. Whitney Company.

The collection was donated to the college by Marjorie Eames in 1993, and it covers years from the 1840s-1980s, with several original cards made by Howland’s company, called New England Valentine Co., in the 1870s.

The cards show how styles changed over the years as the industry suffered paper shortages, postcard popularity and nostalgia for Victoria-style cards marking the golden age of valentines in Western Europe and the US.

If you live near Mount Holyoke, some of the collection will be on exhibit at the Williston Library, from February 14-28.

What were the favorite valentines you’ve received? Who were they from? Do you have any old valentines received by your parents or grandparents? Tell us about them in the comments below, on Facebook, Twitter or Google+.

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