In 1849, Graham’s American Monthly magazine wrote “Saint Valentine’s Day……is becoming, nay it has become, a national holyday”. Though Valentine’s Day is only a public holiday, it is one of the most popular non-federal holiday’s to celebrate in the United States. This holiday is one of the few that does not change dates each year, it stays on February 14th. The U.S. greeting Card Association says that approximately 190 million valentines are sent each year. The average spending per person sending valentines went from $108 in 2010 to $131 in 2013. This trend is one that started in the mid-19th century with the commercialization of the holiday.
The fashion for sending valentines started in the 18th century in the upper classes due to the costliness of the items and postage. In 1797, a book was published called “The Young Man’s Valentine Writer” for those who lacked the skill to write their own. In the early 19th century, printers had already been selling a limited number of cards called mechanical valentines. Fancier valentines could be made with real lace and ribbon and in the mid-19th century paper lace. There were even whole factories dedicated to making valentines to sell to the public. Charles Dickens called these places “Cupids manufactory” which employed around 3,000 women.
Once the postal reforms (in England) in 1840 went into effect, the number of valentines increased due to the low cost of postage. Around 400,000 was sent that year.
In the United States in 1847 Esther Howland of Worchester, MA made the first mass produced valentines of embossed paper lace. Since the 19th century handwritten valentines have given way to mass produced cards. Each year around 190 million valentines are sent, this does not include the hundreds of millions of cards exchanged by school age children. In 2010, around 15 million e-valentines were sent.
In 1868, Cadbury a British chocolate company (yes it’s still around and yes its amazing chocolate!) created something called a “Fancy box”. This was a box of chocolates in the shape of a heart and decorated with symbols of the holiday. This is what launched the trend of exchanging chocolate as gifts. Though in the mid-20th century, valentines were not just cards and chocolates; it extended jewelry and other gifts.
In other countries the holiday is celebrated slightly different. In Slovenia, Valentine’s Day is the day that is the start of working the fields and vineyards again. In Japan and Korea, on February 14th the women give the men chocolate but the men have to reciprocate on March 14th with a gift.