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The Heart at the Heart of Valentine’s Day Candy

Yes, hearts are at the Heart of Valentine’s Day cards and candy.  Charming, yes, but the origin of the heart is intriguing and well-deserving of its place in Valentine’s Day today. In fact, the heart originated with the silphium plant used by the ancients as an aphrodisiac, medicine, spice and, even, birth control measure. The plant contained a heart-shaped flower and was so celebrated it appeared in artwork, including coins, such as this example dated 510-470 BCE.

and this coin from 550-500 BCE:

Unfortunately, the silphium was so popular the ancient Romans used it into extinction…but the image lived on, especially in the increasingly popular playing cards. These cards are from the Middle Ages:


Card Games of the Middle Ages

The heart also became a religious symbol:


Flemish Heart, “Trinity”, 17th Century


Flash forward to the mid-1800s and British candy-maker Richard Cadbury, of England’s esteemed Cadbury family, invented the first heart-shaped chocolate box.  Around that time in 1866, Esther Howland of Worcester, Massachusetts, who spent her whole life single and living in her family home, created the first Valentine’s Day card in the U.S. Here’s an early version – it led to numerous others full of hearts:

Esther Howland, 1870s


Valentine’s Cupids with Hearts 1880s

In nearby Boston, Daniel Chase, brother of NECCO wafer inventor Oliver Chase, found a way to print sayings on candy rather than the more cumbersome alternative of the times  – wrap the candy in paper with the saying on it. A few decades later and the candy took on a heart-shape, known today as the “Sweetheart Candy.”

Sweetheart Candy – the Original

Eventually the playing cards, the hearts, and candy came together in a game called “Bridge” where players – usually two sets of couples – played for hours and hours and hours.. starting in the 1920s. So long were these games, the players had no time to eat. The candy bridge mix was one solution. Made of chocolate covered fruits and nuts, it allowed players to eat with one hand and hold the cards with the other including the subject of our Valentine’s Day discussion: the heart. Here’s one of our bridge mix selections:

The illustrious silphium became an image representing fun on greeting cards, boxes, and, of course, candy, its aphrodisiac origins lingering in suggestion only.

Valentines Day Card 1908


Sour Peach Hearts



Valentine for Kids 1950s


Sweetheart in a Box Fun for the Whole Family