The Jumbled Origins Of Conversation Hearts Candy

Candy conversation hearts may be polarizing, but in the weeks leading up to Valentine's Day, they fly off the shelves. According to, the powdery candies outsold chocolate boxes as the most popular valentine's confection in 2022. Love them or hate them, they're tradition.

Despite the candy's popularity, the original Sweethearts brand went under in 2018 when candy company Necco shuttered its factories. The brand was acquired by The Spangler Candy Company, but the transition led to shortages in 2019 and 2020. Now, the candies are back in stores — and's stats show they're doing better than ever.

Necco's former marketing director, Aimee Scott, attributed the candy's popularity to nostalgia. "Our adult customer usually remembers the candies from their youth and it strikes a nostalgic chord," she told Smithsonian Magazine in 2011. While it's no surprise that Sweethearts, with their powdery texture and vintage packaging, have been around for decades, their history goes back farther than you might expect.

Conversation hearts have a long history

According to The Food Historian, conversation "lozenges" were already seen as old-fashioned in 1907 when The Brooklyn Citizen mentioned them in a column titled "Fads That Were." The newspaper notes that the candies had already been around for nearly half a century, commenting on their "extremely long sway in the candy stores."

Genesee County Village and Museum, a living history museum in New York state, has a collection of these candies dating back to the 1880s. In addition to hearts, the wafers are shaped like crescents, horseshoes, and postage stamps. The messages include messages like "YOU'RE A FLIRT MISS" and "DON'T YOU FORSAKE ME," as well as more platonic sayings like "GOOD LUCK."

But where exactly did conversation hearts originate? Food historians aren't quite sure. Necco wafers were invented in 1847 by pharmacist Oliver Chase, according to Huffington Post. Legend says that conversation hearts were inspired by soldiers' love letters since Necco wafers were popular during the Civil War. It's more likely that the idea came from "cockles," though. Cockles were shell-shaped candies with small strips of paper inside, similar to modern fortune cookies. Inspired by the popularity of cockles, Chase's brother invented a way to print words directly onto the candy.

Sayings change, but hearts live on

In the 140 years since, conversation hearts have gone through many iterations. The first candies, which were large and wordy, were popular at weddings (via Huffington Post). They featured phrases like "MARRIED IN WHITE, YOU HAVE CHOSEN RIGHT" or the ominous "MARRIED IN PINK, HE WILL TAKE TO THE DRINK." Others included jokes. One wafer asked, "WHY IS A STYLISH GIRL LIKE YOU A THRIFTY HOUSEKEEPER?" with the answer on the other side: "BECAUSE SHE MAKES A BIG BUSTLE ABOUT A LITTLE WAIST."

While these sayings are decidedly dated now, Smithsonian Magazine notes that Necco has tried to keep up with the times. The brand released Sweethearts we know today in 1902 with classics like "BE MINE" and "KISS ME," but other phrases have come and gone. Sayings like "HEP CAT" and "FAX ME" were replaced by "TEXT ME" and "YOU ROCK." In 2022, Spangler released a collection of phrases aimed at encouragement rather than romance — to tepid reviews from publications like The Cut. Others reference pop culture. Smithsonian adds that "BITE ME" and "LIVE 4 EVER" were inspired by the Twilight franchise. Brach's candy company sells hearts with sayings inspired by the TV show Friends, in addition to snarky "End the Conversation" hearts.

But while trends and phrases come and go, one thing's for sure. Valentine's Day wouldn't be the same without conversation hearts — and judging by their resilient history, they're here to stay.