Blog Post

What kinds of messages did those conversation hearts have in 1866?

Even as a kid, I hated the chalky taste of those little conversation hearts. It was like eating Tums … or, you know, actual chalk. They come in a distant third behind two other contentious sweets: candy corn and Peeps. (Although with this dieting I’m doing right now, I could prolly chew through a box or twenty … and I mean including the box).

Still, I remember we did love going through the messages to see what they said. While doing some research, I came across some interesting information: Conversation hearts (real name: Sweethearts) used to have real conversations on them. I mean like loooong messages. Like, the hearts musta been the size of dinner plates (but the dinner plates still would have been easier to chew).

Before I tell you what Valentine’s messages people were exchanging a year after the end of the Civil War, here’s a quick rundown of how the candies came to be (via Mental Floss):

A Boston pharmacist named Oliver Chase was trying to invent a machine to make cutting lozenges easier and, in 1847, accidentally invented the thing that would cut perfectly shaped candy wafers that he eventually named NECCO, for New England Confectionary Co. He quickly learned he could make more money selling candy than drugs (something you know would never happen today).

Some modern Sweethearts messages. (Source: NECCO)

In 1866, Oliver’s brother Daniel, noting that Valentine’s Day sentiments were becoming more popular, developed a way to put messages on the wafers. Although they wouldn’t be heart-shaped until 1902, people fell in love with the cute messages.

But what did lovers “say” to one another with candies in 1866? Certainly not the kinds of messages on the hearts today, which include “Netflix and chill.” Kidding. But they do, oddly for a candy handed out in elementary schools, include “Let’s Get Busy.” (Don’t worry, moms, I’m sure they’re referring to homework. Or vacuuming.)

The 19th century messages I found online were more than a little disturbing.

  • From the stalker: “Please send a lock of your hair by return mail.
  • From the desperate lover who can’t rhyme: “How Long Shall I Have to Wait? Please Be Considerate.”
  • From the obtuse guy who hopes to impress a girl with a really awkward joke about a “woman’s place:” “Why Is a Stylish Girl Like You a Thrifty Housekeeper?” Answer on the other side: “Because She Makes a Big Bustle About a Little Waist.”

There were also wedding messages that seemed to be designed to keep women virginal, or at least dressing as though they were:

  • “Married in White, You Have Chosen Right.”
  • “Married in Satin, Love Will Be Long Lasting.”
  • “Married in Pink, He Will Take to Drink.”

Still, I guess those messages beat “Get a Pre-nup” and “Call My Lawyer,” which are two consumer suggestions the folks at NECCO said they had to reject.

I hope your Valentine’s Day is filled with whatever sweet things you desire: Love or chocolate or wine or a solitary hot bath or 12 hours of sleep. Or all of the above. Love ya babes. Mean it.


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