The color history of Valentines Day

A look at the changing color palettes of the most romantic day of the year

While the writing of notes has long been a tradition of Valentines day, dating back to the 17th century, it wasn't until the 1820's that printed cards became fashionable.  In fact, the first printed card wasn't published in the United States until 1849 by Esther Howland in Worcester, MA.

While we don't associate the name Esther Howland with Valentine's Day cards today, we do often find ourselves buying a Hallmark card for our loved ones. Hallmark ran it's first line of Valentine's Day cards in 1915, and the rest as they say is history.

With each passing decade, the Hallmark Valentine's Day card message has stayed relatively constant, however, the color has changed. Is this color evolution a reflection of social or political change or simply the need for new and fresh design? Take a look at these Valentine's Day color palates from the 1910s to today and decide for yourself.


With major advances in printing and a reduction in postal rates just years prior, Valentine's Day cards in the late 1800's were all the rage. The most popular form was the "vinegar Valentine" which was both snarky and crude and were often sent anonymously to unwanted Valentines.

.ASE Swatch




The 1910's saw the introduction of the Hall Brothers Company (know today as Hallmark), who started printing their own version of the Valentine's Day card in 1915.

.ASE Swatch




The 1920's Valentine's Day cards can be described as both inappropriate and disturbing.  While the content wasn't insulting in nature, headlines such as "I would like you for my dictator" paint a different picture of love than we see today.

.ASE Swatch





Love prevailed during the Great Depression, but the recession had a profound effect on the designs of the decade leaving the palettes often feeling sallow and muted. 

.ASE Swatch





With WWII on everyone's mind, Valentines in this generation featured tag lines such as "I'm 'gunner' ask you, do I have a fighting chance of being your Valentine?" 

.ASE Swatch





The 1950's saw the introduction of the popular "studio card," or a return to the light-hearted Valentine. In a response to the Beatnick anti-establishment movement, Hallmark and American Greetings launched their own lines of irreverent and witty cards to appeal to the new generation of lovers.

.ASE Swatch





What started as the dawn of a golden era for many Americans ended in a country fragmented, divided by war and politics.  This palette is one of the darkest yet still more vibrant than it's predecessors. 

.ASE Swatch





The mid 1970's brought back a sense of lightheartedness as disco became the forefront of pop culture.

.ASE Swatch





With the cards, chocolate and flower industries all seeing major Valentine's Day sales, the 1980's saw the jewelry industry advertising Valentine's Day as the perfect occasion to buy your sweetheart jewelry.  The campaign was a huge success.

.ASE Swatch





As we leave the party days of the 1980's and with grunge at the bleeding edge of pop culture, the palette of the 1990's is understandably muted and withdrawn.  

.ASE Swatch





New millennium relationships breathe a breath of fresh air into Valentine's Day card designs. Valentine's Day now generates an estimated $14.7 billion in retail sales in the United States.

.ASE Swatch





An estimated 1 billion Valentine's Day cards are now sent worldwide, making it the second most card-heavy celebration after Christmas.

.ASE Swatch



Hallmark is a classic Valentine's Day brand, as is Russell Stover, Tiffany & Co and any other card, chocolate, rose and jewelry brand you can think of. However, Valentine's Day wasn't always about gift exchange or going out to fancy dinners. Valentine's Day actually stemmed from Saint Valentinus in Roman times. Read Up on how Valentine's Day came about and was eventually branded as the day of love and romance we know today.

PS: If you're looking for some intelligent tools to distribute your brand assets we've built Brandisty just for you!