The Victorian Era Origin Of Heart-Shaped Chocolate Boxes

Heart-shaped chocolate boxes have risen to that rare holiday gift status of total ubiquity, a popularity that obscures its relatively modern origins. Christmas has its trees, Halloween its pumpkins, and Valentine's Day is defined not just by hearts but hearts filled with chocolate. It's the rare specific gift that has circled back around to become a defining symbol of the holiday that spawned it. While there are plenty of other foods you can use to celebrate Valentine's Day, they all play second fiddle to chocolate, and the holiday wouldn't feel complete without it.

The heart-shaped chocolate box is just the latest feature of this long-running holiday. Despite its reputation as a modern commercial holiday, NPR reports that Valentine's Day, and the pagan feast it replaced, has been associated with love since the time of the Romans. It took centuries longer for the heart to become a symbol of love, as Time notes that writers and artists didn't make the connection between hearts and romance until the 13th and 14th centuries. It was also around the same time that artistic depictions of the heart started taking the modern form that would then lend its shape to the chocolate box. Despite that head start, it took until the 19th century for one very enterprising British manufacturer to combine this romantic symbol with chocolate and turn it into an enduring Valentine's Day staple.

Cadbury is credited with the first heart-shaped chocolate boxes

Chocolate was the last addition to the Valentine's day canon that became the heart-shaped box. According to Vox, chocolate acquired its association with love and seduction from the Spanish, who had adopted the habit of drinking chocolate from the Aztecs after conquering them. Chocolate made its way back to Europe as an expensive drink of the elite, but by the early industrial revolution, it was losing popularity to tea and coffee due to the unpalatable taste of the cocoa butter found naturally in chocolate. History notes that a turnaround came in the 1840s when the British chocolate company Cadbury used a newly discovered method for separating cocoa butter from chocolate to produce solid, sweetened "eating chocolates," which were much more luxurious and enjoyable.

The timing was critical because, at the same time this new type of chocolate was being invented, Valentine's Day was gaining in popularity as a gift-giving holiday in Victorian society. It was Richard Cadbury, the marketer of the family, who came up with the idea of putting this new chocolate in decorated boxes targeted at Valentine's Day lovers. It was only a few more years, 1868, when the box found its destined heart-shaped form. He also came up with the idea of marketing the heart boxes as storage for romantic letters and mementos after the chocolate was gone. The romance-crazed Victorians quite literally ate it up, and heart-shaped chocolate boxes have remained the quintessential Valentine's Day gift ever since.