Valentine’s Day Through the Lens of Art & History

The Art, History & Paper of Valentines

The American valentine industry was started during the mid-19th century by Esther Howland, a Mt. Holyoke graduate and Worcester native. Often called “The Mother of the Valentine,” Howland was inspired by the beautiful, ornate valentines imported from England and suspected that there might be a market for them in the United States, as well. Through her father’s paper company, she sold her first valentines in 1848 and within a few years was able to begin her own business, the New England Valentine Company.

Mt. Holyoke College graduate, Esther Howland, started the American valentine industry with her beautiful paper valentines sourced through her father’s paper company in the mid-19th century.  Howland, also a Worcester native, began her own business 5 years later in 1848: The New England Valentine Company.

Howland’s valentines featured lacy, cut paper with ornate and decorative images. At Mt. Holyoke College’s Archives and Special Collections there are many examples of Howland’s valentines with designs heavily influenced by Victorian style. By the 1860’s, Esther was selling $100,000 worth of valentines a year.  (That’s over 2 million dollars today!)

In honor of this Mt. Holyoke alumna’s success and contribution to the history of paper goods and Valentine’s Day, the college’s Archives and Special Collections displays a student-curated exhibit case of valentines in the Library’s courtyard. Curious to see some of the collection’s valentines?  Take a look online at the Pinterest board, From MHC With Love.

Esther relied on her father’s local paper company to start the business.  In the mid-19th century these types of mills were more common. Which paper mill is the oldest?  That would be Crane & Co. in Dalton, MA!  Read the rest of this entry »

The Holyoke History Walk: A Virtual Tour of the City

The Holyoke History Walk: A Virtual Tour of the City

“Holyoke, Massachusetts is marked as one of the first planned industrial cities famed for its paper manufacturing,” writes Penni Martorell, City Historian. “The City’s rich past is reflected in its architecture: remnants of the paper mills topped with wrought iron widow’s walks; the stunning City Hall, buffeted on all sides by stained glass windows; and the central train depot, originally designed by H.H. Richardson. The Holyoke History Walk was created to engage the public with the history of the city through their direct geographic interaction with its architecture, monuments, and historic landscapes while at the same time utilizing historical collections and materials present in the city’s archival records.”

Have you ever walked, biked, or driven through downtown Holyoke and wondered about the history of the city’s numerous old buildings?  Each empty mill, towering church, and brick rowhouse tells a story of the city’s past.  An exploration of Holyoke’s history reveals a rich, diverse, and complicated history.  Visitors to Holyoke can now learn about the city’s history themselves – from home or while exploring the city’s streets thanks to the Wistariahurst Museum!

The Museum has recently added a gigantic community resource to its repertoire- the Holyoke History Walk, available on the museum’s website, offering a comparative look at the city and many of its streets and buildings as they once were (up to 125 years ago). Read the rest of this entry »

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