I was recently at a dinner party where the gracious hostess embellished the dining room table with Sweethearts, also known as Conversation Hearts and Sweet Talks. As you can imagine, the guests questioned the history of these sweethearts and turned to me for an answer. I promised that when I returned to the Library that I would investigate the history of these infamous Valentine Day candies.
As many of you may know, today’s Sweethearts were made famous by the New England Confectionary Company, better known as NECCO. NECCO has been manufacturing the Sweethearts brand since 1902, but these treats trace their origins back to the 19th century and maybe even further.
Before joining NECCO, Chase and Company (later known as Chase Candy Company) manufactured lozenges made of gum Arabic, peppermint, and brown sugar. Oliver Chase, founder of Chase and Company, was an enterprising lozenge maker who sold his wares to apothecary shops. In 1847 he invented an automatic lozenge cutter machine, which greatly increased his production, and he soon joined the confectionary business.
In 1866 Oliver’s brother Daniel devised a machine with a felt roller pad moistened with coloring that pressed against a die. This die would print the mottos right on the lozenges. These became known as motto lozenges or conversation candies. The British also developed motto lozenges by pressing the candy into molds.
The idea of putting messages with candy can also be traced back to cockles, a small crisp candy typically shaped like a scallop shell, in which mottoes printed on paper were enclosed.
Nathaniel Hawthorne writes of cockles in the 1871 Twice Told Tales
…and those little cockles, or whatever they are called, much prized by children for their sweetness, and much more for their mottoes, which they enclose, by love-sick maids and bachelors (p. 10).
Today NECCO manufactures about 80% of Sweethearts, which feature over a hundred different sayings. Back in 1997/98 NECCO made headline news when they introduced new sayings such as “Awesome,” “Email me,” “Fax Me,” and “Page me.” According to the NECCO Website, they have retired all their previous sayings and replaced them with submissions from the public.
If you are interested in tracing the history of candy manufacturing in the U.S., the Library has a rich collection of trade magazines such as Confectioner and Baker, Confectioner Gazette, Confectioners Journal for Candy Manufacturers, and Confections: the National Magazine of the Confectionary Trade. Not only do these trade magazines give you a history of candy manufacturing, but you can also use these volumes to trace the history of the sugar trade in the U.S. Another helpful guide that might interest you is American Confections: Selected Titles on the Art of Confectionary 1825-1938.
Happy Valentine’s Day!