GRAFTON, Mass.—The bragging rights of who first brought the Valentine's Day card to America has been fought over in an unromantic way.
Some claim it was Esther A. Howland, an entrepreneur who, in 1847, opened a small card factory in Worcester after a friend gave her a Valentine he bought in England. But there is a small group of historians who believe Jotham W. Taft, a stationer from North Grafton, began manufacturing and selling small cards made of lace and ruby red paper years earlier.
Regardless of whether historians’ hearts are with Howland or Taft, the Grafton Historical Society will display a collection of antique Valentine's Day cards at its museum in the basement of One Grafton Common through the month of February.
The collection will include some pieces from Taft, manufactured around 1850, plus other cards from the early 20th century donated by the estate of Anne Johnson Clark, a Grafton resident. Other pieces from the collection are from Abby Warren McInnis, Jane Anderson, and Richard & Marguerite Allen.
“These items are priceless to us,” said Linda Casey, president of the Grafton Historical Society, when asked what the value of the museums antique cards might be worth.
Casey laid out a sample on a wooden table: images of romantic couples traipsing in English gardens like a scene from "Pride and Prejudice," a 3-D card adorned with Cupid, and a “baby bandit” stealing someone’s heart.
Casey then presented research that pointed to Taft being the American pioneer of the Valentine's card. According to the American Antiquarian Society, Howland was a college student when Taft was making his cards in a part of North Grafton known then as New England Village. “His factory was near the Nelson Library,” Casey said.
The Grafton Historical Society holds an open house Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m. but Casey said she is there most days during the week to give tours.