You know them, you love them (sort of): Sweethearts, aka conversation hearts, the classic Valentine’s Day candy that tastes like chalk and has barely legible odes to love. But how did they get their start? And when did Sweethearts first get their shape?
The history of the candy actually goes back a long, long time, all the way to the 1800s - and the origins of candy itself. So let's get into it, and discuss how love -- sorry, conversation hearts, were invented.
Sweethearts actually started out shaped like… Scallops?
As you might be able to tell from the taste, in one form or another the candy has been around since the 1800s. In fact, the candy we would eventually come to know as Sweethearts was first invented in 1847 by a businessman named Oliver R. Chase.
Chase is an iconic part of candy history because he invented the first-ever candy machine, which was able to punch lozenges out of larger sheets of candy. In 1850, Chase formed a company with his brother, Daniel Chase, and a man named Silas Edwin called Chase and Co.
That company would eventually come to be known as the New England Confectionery Co. You may know them better by their other name: NECCO. And yes, those lozenges Chase created are what went on to become Necco Wafers.
Around the same time, Chase came up with a way to make another form for his wafers: scallop shells. Those scallop shells would have notes tucked inside of them on colored paper. Think fortune cookies, and you have the idea.
About 14 years later, some time in the 1860s, Daniel figured out how to use red vegetable dye to stamp the messages directly on the scallop shell candies, and the progenitor to the candy heart was created. Unlike today’s hearts, which can barely fit a “LOL," these… Conversation Scallops? Had longer messages on them, like “Married in White, you have chosen right” or “Married in Pink, he’ll take to drink.”
Petition to bring these back, because they’re very funny. But I digress.
So when did Sweethearts first get their shape?
As you might imagine, the popular Conversation Scallops evolved into other designs that made more sense for love messages, like… Baseballs and horseshoes???
In 1888, Oliver R. Chase retired, and he passed away in 1902. However, right before he died, he got to see the final form of the candy, as it was in 1901 that the company finally introduced hearts to the line. The messages also got shorter in 1902, adding classics like “Be Mine,” “Be True” and “Kiss Me.”
So there you go! The answer to the initial question is that Sweethearts first got their shape in 1901, a full 54 years after the candy was first introduced. Over the intervening decades, the shape hasn’t changed, but the messages and flavors have changed significantly… Including Necco, which went bankrupt in 2018.
They were acquired by the Spangler Candy Company that same year, though given the turnaround we spent 2019 without candy hearts. The candies returned in 2020, along with their original flavor (chalk? Sand? unclear) though with some problems with the line that led to a shortage of Sweethearts, as well as some muted messages.
Thankfully, a few years later and love is officially back with Valentine’s Day 2024. So… Will you be my scallop?
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