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By Lia Blanchard

They’re cute, and they’re sweet in every sense of the word. Over 8 billion are manufactured every year, and they are as much an icon of Valentine’s Day as the leprechaun is for St. Patrick’s Day. Who came up with the idea for “cute candy” and how did they get so popular?

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What did Abe Lincoln think?

“Cockle” candies were popular during the Civil War – little shell-shaped flour and sugar concoctions that contained thin colored paper rolled up inside. Printed on the paper was a motto; entertaining and sometimes thought-provoking sayings.

By then, Oliver Chase had invented a lozenge-cutting machine and had been using it to make disc-shaped wafer candies for nearly 20 years. When his brother Daniel Chase figured out how to print sayings on candy in 1866, they combined their inventions and printed sayings on candies of various shapes, including horseshoes, baseballs, and, of course, hearts. In 1902, they decided to focus solely on hearts, and Sweethearts Conversation Hearts as we know them were born. Some of the sayings that were used for over a hundred years include, “Kiss Me,” “Be True,” “Be Mine,” and “Sweet Talk.”

Change with the times

The Chase brothers’ original company, Chase and Company, continued to grow and expand – even surviving multiple devastating fires – and eventually became the New England Confectionery Company, or NECCO, the same name by which it is known today.

Sayings on the Conversation Hearts did not change much for about 90 years, when the company vice president decided to retire a few sayings and add a few updated ones such as “Fax Me.” To this day, NECCO Vice President Walter Marshall receives hundreds of suggestions for new sayings each year.

The recipe for the hearts remained unchanged until 2010, when the company decided to start using natural flavoring and coloring, and introduced a few new lines of the candy, including a sugar-free version. A strong decline in sales led the company to bring back the original recipe, and today produces both versions of the candy.

Did You Know?

  • NECCO began producing its famous wafers in 1847, as Chase and Company.
  • NECCO’s wafers and Conversation Hearts are made from the same recipe.
  • In 2009, the company briefly manufactured Twilight-themed hearts, with sayings like “Bite Me,” that are still available on Amazon.
  • Conversation Hearts are produced at a rate of 100,000 pounds per day from late February through mid-January. The entire production sells out in six weeks.
  • In the late 1800’s, popular sayings for wedding-day candies included “Married in pink, he’ll take to drink,” and “Married in white, you’ve chosen right.”
  • Conversation Hearts are a very popular craft theme. Here are 30+ Conversation Heart Food and Craft Ideas from www.cutefoodforkids.com.
  • You can order your own personalized Conversation Hearts from NECCO at http://mynecco.com/index.php/personalize.
Sweethearts Conversation Hearts are an important part of the popular "Bee Mine" gift basket from Art of Appreciation.

Sweethearts Conversation Hearts are an important part of the popular “Bee Mine” gift basket from Art of Appreciation.