The Robinson Library >> Fine Arts >> Greeting Cards, Postcards, Etc.
Esther Howland

maker of Valentines

Esther Howland

Esther Allen Howland was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1828. It was after her graduation from Mount Holyoke College, in 1847, that she was inspired by some fancy lace-covered English valentines that her father sold in his stationery store and decided to make some of her own.

Using what she knew of the family's stationery business -- and her own considerable artistic ability -- she went to work with paste, paper, and paint and created an array of sample valentines. One of her brothers was skilled in penmanship, and she persuaded him to inscribe sentiments in the cards. Another brother was a salesman for the family business, and he agreed to try to get some orders for the next season's trade.

an Esther Howland valentine an Esther Howland valentine

Esther's valentines proved more popular than she could have imagined, for her brother returned with an astonishing $5,000 in orders. Undaunted by the size of the task before her, Esther recruited four friends to help her fulfill the orders and adopted a revolutionary assembly-line approach to make the cards. Seated at a long table, one worker cut out small colored lithographs of sentimental subjects, the next laid them on brilliantly glazed paper backgrounds, a third assembled the layers of lace paper that framed the central design, and the fourth pasted down a printed sentiment, typically inside the card or under a flap where only the recipient could see it.

Howland's valentine assembly lines

Howland's creations were an instant hit. Despite their high cost -- many of the cards sold for $5 to $10 each, and some truly extravagant ones, bedecked with ribbons, satin, and silk, cost up to $30 -- the business boomed.

Howland sold her business to the George C. Whitney Company in 1881 and retired to take care of her aging father. She died in Quincy, Massachusetts, in 1904.

Discovering America's Past Pleasantville, NY: Reader's Digest Association, Inc., 1993

American Antiquarian Society

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The Robinson Library >> Fine Arts >> Greeting Cards, Postcards, Etc.

This page was last updated on 06/19/2017.