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The History of Heart-Shaped Chocolate Boxes

Valentine’s Day started out as a Christian feast day honoring the Roman martyr, St. Valentine, but as early as the 14th century, its associations shifted toward the secular and it became a popular celebration of romantic love. In the Victorian Era, a cultural love of romance and rapid industrialization combined to make Valentine’s Day more popular than ever before. By the mid-1800s, elaborately decorated boxes of chocolates were a well-established commodity, but they weren’t connected to Valentine’s Day until Richard Cadbury created and marketed the first heart-shaped boxes of chocolates in 1868. (A few years earlier, he and his brother had taken over the family business and refined their method for processing cocoa.) Cadbury’s new “Fancy Boxes” were filled with “eating chocolates” and elaborately decorated to capitalize on the Victorian love for ornamentation. Cadbury designed the heart-shaped boxes himself and they reportedly featured images of idyllic landscapes, delicate flowers, and even drawings of his own children as cherubs. Because he didn’t patent his concept, Cadbury’s heart-shaped boxes were swiftly copied by chocolatiers everywhere, including in America, which was still very influenced by English culture. In America, lower costs made the heart-shaped chocolate boxes (and in fact, chocolates overall) even more popular than they were in Victorian England. Gifting chocolates in a heart-shaped box to one’s “Valentine” on Valentine’s Day quickly became a tradition and well-established American chocolate companies like Baker, Ghirardelli, Whitman’s, Schrafft’s, and (later) Russell Stover began marketing their own heart-shaped chocolate boxes. Nineteenth century chocolate assortments would have included a mix of flavors that are both familiar and unfamiliar to the modern palate, including chocolate ganache, orange, several fruity creams, marzipan, and chocolate cherry cordials. In the late 1800s, the price of sugar dropped and American candy makers learned how to make affordable caramels that quickly made their way into chocolates. After Connecticut-based inventors Edward Smith and E. Chapman Maltby debuted a machine for shredding coconut at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876, coconut chocolates quickly gained popularity, too. Milk chocolate soared in popularity after World War I, but less than a century later, in the early 2000s, demand for dark chocolate varieties soared once again. Today, chocolate samplers packaged in heart-shaped boxes still remain a classic Valentine’s Day gift roughly a century and a half after first being introduced to the world.

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