What Valentine’s Day Looked Like Hundreds of Years Ago

Source: Photo by H. Armstrong Roberts / Retrofile / Getty Images

Heart-Shaped Boxes of Chocolates
> Time: 1860s

The National Retail Federation estimates that 52% of Valentine’s Day gift-givers will spend $2.4 billion on candy, and the overwhelming majority of that will be on chocolate. Venerable British chocolate company Cadbury produced the first heart-shaped box of chocolates in the 1860s. Chocolate has been associated with “amour” since at least the time of Aztec Montezuma II, who consumed huge quantities of liquid cocoa beans in the late 15th and early 16th centuries because it was believed that chocolate boosted virility.

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Interest in Valentine’s Day history
> Time: 19th century

Newspapers began to publish stories in the 19th century about the origins of the holiday as well as stories lamenting the decline of romance. Commercial card companies started buying advertisements for Valentine’s Day cards around this time.

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Jewelry
> Time: Late 19th century

As people’s incomes rose in the late 19th century, they sought to express their affection by giving jewelry on Valentine’s Day. Some people thought that this was too much of a capitalist intrusion on a holiday meant for love.

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Racist Valentine’s Day cards
> Time: Late 19th century

Valentine’s Day cards depicting racial stereotypes were not uncommon in the late 19th century and early 20th centuries. These cards depicted caricatures of African-Americans speaking in ignorant dialects. Blackface depictions on these cards were also common. Stores were not bashful in displaying these Valentines with cardboard cutouts of racially stereotyped children.

Source: Esther Howland / Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections, South Hadley, MA / Wikimedia Commons

Elaborately decorated cards
> Time: 1890s

By the late 19th century, commercially made cards featured ribbons, glazed paper, feathers, beads and even mirrors. They were expensive, too, some costing as much as $25.