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Sweethearts for the Sweet

The History of Conversation Hearts

By Cie McCulloughPublished about a year ago 3 min read

One of the staples of Valentine's Day are Sweethearts, the little candy hearts with short sayings on them. Most of them say things like "Be Mine" or "True Love" or "4 Ever". It's hard to imagine a Valentine's Day without them. So clever of someone to come up with the idea to make a candy valentine card, and a small one at that. Simple candy, simple sentiments. But, of course, like many good ideas, it didn't start out that way.

Sweethearts started out as scallop shells.

Well, technically, they started out as peppermint lozenges. Back in 1847 the brothers Chase, Oliver, Daniel, and Silas Evan, created the Chase Candy Company. Oliver had invented a Peppermint Lozenge cutter and wanted to put it to good use. Besides the flat lozenges, the brothers Chase made candies that were in the shape of scallop shells, and like shells were called "cockles". Rolled up inside the shells were love notes on thin colored paper. These notes could be quite lengthy, a common message being "Please send a lock of your hair by return mail." That certainly wouldn't fit on a little heart.

About a decade later Daniel, not to be outdone, invented a machine that would inscribe messages directly on to the candies. Still not in the shape of a heart, these novelties were a hit with adults and were made with fortunes, good and bad, for weddings and parties. These were called "Conversation Candies". Some were inscribed with flirtatious sayings, intended for use in courting.

In 1901 Chase Candy merged with two other candy companies to become the New England Confectionery Company. The next year finally saw the message imprinted on (rather large) candy hearts, and baseballs, and horseshoes, and watches, and postcards.

All of these together were called Motto Candies, and the size of the candies allowed for long sayings such as "How long shall I have to wait? Please be considerate." Eventually the sayings got shorter - perhaps as the suitors grew impatient - and the candies grew smaller. A short two line message fit nicely in a small heart, which hid nicely in the palm of a hand and could then be discreetly passed to another palm.

Today the New England Confectionery Company, or Necco, still makes the peppermint lozenges that made them famous, although now they are known as Necco Wafers and come in a variety of flavors. You may not be able to get candy baseballs or horseshoes, but you can still get candy bracelets, complete with a candy watch that is right twice a day. But the Sweetheart candy hearts live on.

Necco was the first, but now the conversation hearts are also made by Brach's and Jelly Belly. Almost 8 billion tiny little candy love notes are made every year by the three companies. Necco starts production in late February and continues until January of the following year, making 100,000 pounds a day just to sell out in six weeks. That's a lot of love for such a sweet little candy.

For more information on all candies, there are always books! (don't get the pages sticky):

Sweet!: The Delicious Story of Candy by Ann Love and Jane Drake, and illustrated by Claudia Davila, is a great book for kids. It talks about both candy and candy makers, and includes a map of candies from around the world.

Sweets: A History of Candy by Tim Richardson is a more complete, adult history of sweets, but also told with humor and a good dose of minor details.

The History of Candy written by Ruth Freeman Swain and illustrated by John O'Brien. This book was written with elementary students in mind, but is so chocked full of trivia tidbits it is a treat for everyone.

Pop CultureHistorical

About the Creator

Cie McCullough

I write about history, travel, and whatever crosses my mind. I love to explore and learn, and love history as much as science. I take a different view of the world, and do my best to convey that view when I write.

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