History of Valentines and Chocolate at Old Sturbridge Village Feb. 9-10

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Chocolate-making demonstrations, birth of America's Valentine industry explored

STURBRIDGE, Mass. (Jan. 22, 2013) – Historians at Old Sturbridge Village will celebrate the history of Valentines in America and demonstrate old-fashioned chocolate-making with "Be Mine: Chocolate and Valentines," a weekend program set for Saturday and Sunday Feb. 9-10. Antique Valentines will be on display, and Village interpreters will demonstrate chocolate processing and will make chocolate foods and beverages using historical "receipts." Visitors can meet a historian portraying Esther Howland, who pioneered America's Valentine card industry in Worcester, Massachusetts, and guests can also make their own Valentines. Watch the OSV chocolate-making video; program details: 800-SEE-1830; www.osv.org.

After seeing an English-made Valentine in 1847, Esther Howland, the daughter of a stationer, was inspired to design and sell her own fancy hand-made valentines. Esther originally hand-crafted valentines with friends in her family's Worcester, Mass. home with paper lace and floral decorations imported from England. Her business flourished as the popularity of the ornate and sentimental cards grew. Eventually, she sold the business to the Whitney Valentine Company, and Worcester would remain the center of the commercial valentine industry in America until World War II.
To most people in the early 1800s, the word "chocolate" meant a tasty beverage rather than a candy bar. That is because chocolate, from its Central American origins some 6,000 years ago until the 1850s, was enjoyed almost exclusively as a drink, not a food. To show visitors how chocolate is made, OSV historians use the traditional Mexican method of processing chocolate by hand using cacao. Freshly roasted chocolate “nibs” or cacao seeds are ground on a heated stone slab, a “metate,” with a pestle called a mano. As the nibs are ground, the cocoa butter starts to melt, resulting in a semi-liquid mass known as chocolate liquor, used to make a hot, spiced chocolate drink.

Old Sturbridge Village celebrates life in the 1830s, and is one of the country’s largest living history museums. Located just off the Massachusetts Turnpike and Routes I-84 and 20 in Sturbridge, Mass., the Village is open year-round, but hours vary seasonally. Winter hours are Wed. - Sun. 9:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. (the Village is open on all Monday holidays); Admission is: $24 for adults; $22 for seniors; $8 for children ages 3-17; children 2 and under are admitted free. Each admission includes free parking and a free second-day visit within 10 days. Woo Card subscribers get 25% of adult daytime admission; college Woo cardholders receive 50% off adult daytime admission. For event details, visit www.osv.org or call 800-SEE-1830.

Did You Know?


  • Spanish conquistadors brought chocolate from Central America back to Spain in the 16th century. From there, it traveled through Europe, to England, and back to America.
  • Early versions of “chocolate cake” do not actually contain any chocolate. The name means that the cake was intended to be enjoyed with a cup of chocolate, just as “coffee cake” today is meant to be served with coffee.
  • Boston pharmacists advertised chocolate as a medicinal remedy as early as 1712, and by the late 1700s, there were hundreds of chocolate vendors in the city.
  • Chocolate was drunk as a medicine during the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and by California Gold Rush miners, but later in the 19th century, with the addition of milk and more sugar, chocolate was preferred more as a confection than as a health tonic.
  • New manufacturing processes developed during the Industrial Revolution transformed chocolate from an expensive drink into an inexpensive food. By the late 1800s, chocolate was widely advertised to women and children through colorful posters and trade cards, and its iconic status as the world’s preferred candy was secured.


  • The best known legend about St. Valentine has that he was a Roman martyr killed for his faith on February 14, 269 A.D. He may have been a priest who married couples in spite of the Emperor's ban.
  • Valentine’s Day, like Christmas and many other Christian holidays, was originally an attempt to Christianize popular pagan festivals. In pagan Rome, February 14 was dedicated to the goddess Juno (Hera in Greek mythology), wife of Jupiter (Zeus) and patroness of women and marriage.
  • Few New Englanders marked Valentine’s Day before its rise in the increasingly sentimental and economically prosperous 1840s.
  • As with other holidays, those who made money from Valentine's Day encouraged its observance. In the 1840s when printing technology improved, sending handwritten notes and printed cards became even more popular. Enterprising shopkeepers encouraged the exchange of gloves, books, candy, and other gifts among a growing middle class.
  • Esther Howland, of Worcester, Mass. began designing fancy Valentine cards in 1848, and hired girls to help cut and paste together these small works of art. By 1850 she was advertising her cards in the newspaper, and by 1860 she was selling between $50,000 and $100,000 worth of Valentines annually.

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Ann Lindblad
VP Communications
Old Sturbridge Village

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