Life

How Candy Hearts Became The Candy Of Love

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Candy has a way of sneaking into most of our holiday traditions. Easter isn’t Easter without chocolate eggs and bunnies. Candy canes are symbolic of Christmas. We gorge ourselves on candy corn every Halloween, and, of course, on President’s Day we each consume a life-sized chocolate bust of Abraham Lincoln’s head.

But perhaps no holiday is more synonymous with the sweet stuff than Valentine’s Day. Flowers, jewelry, and candy are its core tenets. Expected by lovers far and wide, they’re the classics that you can never go wrong with. And while chocolate is fine, no candy is as perfect (or as iconic) for the occasion as the candy heart.

There’s a sweet nostalgia surrounding these crunchy, pastel candies. We traded them in elementary school and middle school, nervously worrying that we might come on a little too strong with a crush. We giggled when a friend was given a “Kiss me” heart, all while pretending we’d totally kissed someone before. Some of us (not naming names; definitely doesn’t rhyme with Schmallison Scmanchez) wouldn’t get our first kiss until we were 16, so this gossip seemed extra exciting.

Yes, for many of us, candy hearts were the height of flirting. And absolutely as far as the interaction went. That’s a lot of heavy lifting for a candy — conveying all your heart’s desires in two short words. Twitter is like:

“Guess what? We got millions of people to express themselves in only 140 characters!”

And candy hearts are like:

“140 characters? That’s cute. Hold my beer.”

Via Instagram / @WilliamND4


The straight-to-the-point confection is popular for a reason. Candy hearts are both a card and a sweet treat in one and, for the romantic minimalist, they’re the perfect combo gift. Today, candy hearts make up 40% of the candy sold for Valentine’s day. That’s 10 million to 14 millions pounds a year, over five billion hearts telling us to “Be Mine.” And they’re all basically sold in the six weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day.

They’re also one of America’s older holiday traditions, created in a fascinatingly roundabout way:

The hearts were invented by the New England Confectionary Company (or Necco) in Boston in the 1800’s. Founder Oliver Chase was looking to get into the booming lozenge business (who doesn’t want to be told that the only thing to cure what ails you is a sugary candy?), but found the traditional way of making lozenges to be too time-consuming. To solve this problem, he invented the first candy cutting machine to produce the stuff in mass quantities. It was a game changer for the lozenge industry.

But people didn’t just want lozenges. America suddenly had an insatiable sweet tooth. The people wanted their candy and they wanted it now. And Chase’s candy cutting wonder — with its quick, efficient means of production — was the right machine for the job. Soon, he slipped out of the health market and eased into the candy business.

Courtesy of Necco
Oliver Chase- 1847

That brings us to the conversation heart. The first iteration of what are now Necco conversation hearts weren’t hearts at all. Necco made candy scallop shells with the added bonus of putting romantic messages inside. These messages were on paper, like a fortune cookie.

They were like the late 19th-century version of a cute, romantic text.

Genessee Country Village & Museum

It wasn’t until 14 years later that Oliver’s brother, Daniel, came up with the idea of printing the romantic message on the candy itself. And because they had some sort of sibling rivalry thing going on (Clearly an early Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly in Step-brothers relationship), Daniel had to invent something too. So he created a machine that would press words in vegetable dye onto the candy.

Soon, the shells were replaced with large hearts and the early “conversation heart” was truly born. With way more room to place messages, the early phrases were much longer than the quippy phrases of today. And weirder. They often read as sad predictions like, “Married in pink, he will take to drink.” And, “Married in satin, love will not be lasting.” Some seemed to balk at the friend zone with “How long shall I have to wait? Please be considerate.” While others were downright creepy like this (very real) former conversation heart message, “Please send a lock of your hair by return mail.”

Ah, young (old-fashioned) love — so sweet, so disturbing.

Genessee Country Village & Museum

As the turn of the next century arrived, the Sweethearts got smaller, and the brothers learned how to be a little more succinct. And some of the phrases we still see today were born — like “Be mine” and “Kiss me.”

These days, the company keeps those old classic the in the rotation, but they make hearts that change with the times too. “Fax me” made sense in the 80’s while in the 90’s “Email me” became all the rage. Now “tweet me” and “txt me” are among the popular hearts.

What will be next? “Hey Cutie, use your implanted ocular device to thought mssg me!?”

The point is, candy hearts have been a part of our Valentine’s Day traditions for 150 years, and they’re not going anywhere anytime soon. They’ll ride their way through into the future, changing with the times, outliving all of us and probably civilization as we know it. Because they’re just timeless, whether you want a kiss or are begging for human hair, saying it with sugar is a strong technique. Just make sure to get a real gift, too.

Courtesy of Necco
Necco in the old days delivering dreams and probably hair….


The Definitive Guide to Candy Heart Messaging:

If you received a candy heart this year, you may have some interpretation questions. Like, what do they mean by “lovebug?” Do they love you? Or do you remind them of a compact car with little cargo space? (It’s actually neither! They’re just politely letting you know that their apartment building is infested with cockroaches, and is being tented this weekend).

Below, we’ve collected the most popular phrases and decoded them so you can respond appropriately with a polite “Thank you” or an angry door slam followed by eating copious amounts of candy hearts in your bathtub while crying and listening to Adele. Both can be very nice, but you wouldn’t want to mix them up, you know?

Be Mine

This person is IN IT, and they’re ready for commitment. A real Christian Grey type. Plus, you get endless smoldering eyes met from across the room.

Marry Me

Did you know that if you contact Necco, they’ll send you a free bag of just “Marry Me” hearts for your proposal FOR FREE?? (really! You can do this.) It’s a very adorable idea. If you get this heart, expect a really great ring to be close behind. Your partner is a total romantic and thoughtful and they’ll have picked out the perfect piece of jewelry to start your life together.

Or they have a horrible candy addiction, ran out of money for the sweet stuff, and asked Necco to send them Marry Me hearts just to get some free sugar. Who cares though? You’re ENGAGED.

Sweet Talk

This feels like the kind of heart Chidi Anagonye from The Good Place would give. It actually means nothing, and is given out by someone who is afraid to commit to any particular feeling. This person is the kind of partner who will say, “I think I may love you,” rather than, “I love you” to make you say it first.

Let’s Kiss

You should do what the heart says. Wherever you are. Dentist office, driving down the highway, your grandmother’s funeral…the heart has decried it and one does not want to make the God of candy hearts angry.

XOXO

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#blankheart #conversationheart

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This is either from a crush who finds you very attractive and with whom you’ll have great chemistry or Gossip Girl threatening to spill all of your rich people secrets.

Miss You

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Ooh La La 💜

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Are you in a long distance relationship? Then they think about you all the time! Or if you’re in a long distance friendship, they want things to turn into something more! Distance has made the heart grow fonder!

But are they in the same room as you? Oof. They might be telling you to spend less time on your phone and more time talking face to face. Live in the moment! Unless you’re reading this article on your phone. Then you should keep doing it, they’ll understand.

UR Hot

You up? Look, this person is not looking for anything serious, but they’ll be a lot of fun to date. They’re confident and cool, and I think you should go for it. You deserve a fling.

BFF

They love you….like a friend. Move on. Plenty of fish in the sea and whatnot.

Crazy 4 U

This is a person who clearly can only express love by using a mash up of Britney Spears’ hits Drive Me Crazy and Slave 4 U. AND THEY ARE YOUR TRUE LOVE. Don’t let this person slip through your fingers. Get to the airport. Do not let them get on that plane.

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