It’s Valentine’s Day! Time to pull out your favorite pink or red shirt and tell that special someone how much you care. Perhaps you even have plans to send a gift of flowers, chocolates, or candy. But this year, we’ll miss a Valentine’s crowd favorite, Sweethearts Candies, as they were not produced. In honor of those sweet treats, we wanted to explore some of the history behind how they came to be so iconic.
In 1847, a Boston pharmacist named Oliver Chase invented a machine for producing medicinal lozenges. At that time, the lozenges were a popular remedy for sore throats, and were in high demand. Before Chase’s machine, creating the lozenges was a laborious process that involved crushing medicine with a mortar and pestle, kneading and rolling dough, and finally cutting the dough into small discs.
After his lozenge cutter invention was a success, Chase began to see other uses for his invention. He decided to shift the focus of his invention from medicinal lozenges to candy, and founded his own candy company, Chase and Company. Chase and Company would later be known as Chase Candy Company, and finally the New England Confectionery Company, better known as Necco. And so, Chase’s candy lozenges became what we know today as Necco wafers.
Daniel Chase, Oliver Chase’s brother, was also an inventor in his own right. In 1866, Daniel came up with a way to press words onto his brother’s candy lozenges, using a felt roller pad that was moistened with red food coloring.
So, why did Daniel Chase decide to print words of love onto the candy lozenges? There are a few different theories on where he found inspiration. One legend claims that the idea for conversation hearts came from romantic letters that were sent to soldiers during the Civil War. The soldiers would often carry Necco wafers (then known as ‘hub wafers’), and so the idea arose to combine romantic sentiments with the wafers. A second theory suggests that Daniel was simply inspired by Valentine’s Day cards, which became popular in the mid-1800s.
The third, and probably most likely theory, is that Daniel drew his inspiration from cockles, which was a popular candy shaped like a scallop shell that contained a motto printed on thin paper. He took that idea and made it his own by finding a way to print directly onto the candy. Although the conversation candies were not heart-shaped until 1902, they were a big success throughout the next century.
Since the original printed candies were a bit larger than today’s candy hearts, they featured longer phrases such as, “How long shall I have to wait? Please be considerate”. As the size of the candies decreased over time, so did the length of the sayings printed on them, to today’s, “Be Mine”, “Kiss Me”, and more familiar conversation starters.
Whether you like them or not, you probably noticed that the candy hearts are missing from shelves this year. Although Candystore.com reported that the hearts were the most popular Valentine’s Day candy in 2018, that didn’t stop Necco from going out of business in July. Sweethearts were sold to Spangler Candy Company in late 2018, and the company did not have enough time to produce the conversation hearts to stock shelves this season.
If you are a fan of these iconic sweets, there is hope! Spangler plans to relaunch Sweethearts in time for Valentine’s Day of 2020. While we will miss them this year, they’re not gone forever.