Let candy do the talking for you this Valentine's Day. For over one hundred years, lovers have been using conversation hearts to share special messages. With their classic pastel colors and often updated sayings, conversation hearts remain a Valentine's Day favorite.
History of Conversation Hearts
Early colonists scratched love notes into homemade candies for Valentine's Day. Were these the original "conversation hearts"? Around 1860, Daniel Chase, brother of NECCO founder Oliver Chase, created the process for manufacturing shell-shaped candy with printed love sayings tucked inside. It wasn't until 1900 that candies were made with sayings inscribed directly on them. These candies included shapes such as postcards, horseshoes, and baseballs, which allowed for lengthy messages. By 1920, the now-traditional heart shape was in use. These sweet candies were called "motto hearts", then "Sweethearts".
Sizes, Sayings, and Flavors
Candy hearts are available in two sizes - 1/2 inch is the standard size that is used in the traditional "Sweethearts" boxes. Such a small size means the sayings have to be short as well as sweet. Some phrases have been used since the early 1900's such as "BE MINE" and "KISS ME". The NECCO company introduces approximately 10 new sayings each year. They sometimes retire phrases that are out-of-date, usually containing trendy words that are no longer in popular speech. Since the early 1980's, Sweethearts have been available with Spanish sayings in communities with a large Hispanic population. Conversation Hearts can even be made with custom phrases, but you have to purchase a full production run - 1.6 million little hearts.
Sugar, color, and other special ingredients are combined to make the dough for each of the six flavors available in Sweetheart boxes and bags. (Chocolate is available, too, but only by itself - not mixed with the other colors.) The dough is flattened, imprinted, and cut into hearts. The candies are dried, combined, and put in boxes and bags.
NECCO goes through this process 11 months out of the years, while the candies themselves sell out in the 6 weeks before Valentine's Day. Their annual production is about 8 billion hearts, or 100,000 pounds a day during peak production.