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Sweethearts, the original conversation hearts

NECCO Sweethearts are the top-selling candy for Valentine’s Day.

Use Sweethearts conversation candies as Bingo markers. (Staff photo: Mary Braswell)

Use Sweethearts conversation candies as Bingo markers. (Staff photo: Mary Braswell)

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God’s conversation hearts are sandwich bags tied with ribbon and a corresponding message and Bible verse. (Staff photo: Mary Braswell)

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A ring cut from cardboard and covered with school glue and candy makes a table decoration. (Staff photo: Mary Braswell)

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Cookies and crackers are topped with a Sweetheart by using cake decorating gel. (Staff photo: Mary Braswell)

It simply would not be Valentine’s Day without conversation hearts. Just how did those sweet messages get started? Here is the history, short and sweet.

1847 — Oliver R. Chase of Boston invented and patented the first American candy machine, a lozenge cutter.

1850 — Chase invented and patented a machine for pulverizing sugar.

1866 — Daniel Chase, Oliver’s brother, invented “Conversation Candies” by devising a machine that would press food dye letters onto the candy lozenges made famous by his brother. The candies were often shared at weddings, birthday parties and other festive affairs.

1901 — The New England Confectionery Company was officially formed by a merger of three well-known candy companies. NEECO was the trade name adopted from the merger of Chase and Company, Wright and Moody, and Fobes, Hayward and Company with a capital of $1 million.

1902 — Sweethearts, as we know them, were created in the shape of hearts as well as postcards, watches, horseshoes and baseballs. Some of the original sayings are still in the annual rotation.

1990s — An initiative was started to update the Sweetheart sayings each year, retiring some and adding others. Sayings can be suggested by consumers including two lines with four letters each for the small hearts and two lines, up to six letters each for the large hearts.

DID YOU KNOW?

— The batter for Sweethearts consists of sugar, corn syrup, gelatin, gums, coloring and flavoring — the same as NECCO Wafers.

— More than 8 billion hearts are produced annually by NECCO at the rate of 100,000 pounds per day of production. Most of that will sell in just six weeks.

— Sweethearts is the most popular Valentine’s Day candy in America … even topping the sales of chocolate.

— Personalized Sweethearts are available from NECCO, allowing for two lines of “conversation” at the maximum of 11 characters per line.

— Each pound of Sweethearts equals approximately 450 pieces of candy.

— This popular Valentine candy does not contain gluten from wheat, rye, oats or barley.

— Original flavors include lemon, apple, blue raspberry, grape and orange. These are also available in Spanish.

— Dazzled Tarts Sweethearts include pink lemonade, wild berry grape, sour apple, watermelon, extreme tangerine and blue raspberry flavors.

— Sugar-free Sweethearts are flavored in fruit punch, lemonade, orange, red berry and green apple.

— Sweethearts are also available in chocolate.

OTHER USES

— Glue the candies on an inexpensive wooden picture frame using white school glue.

— Allow children to sort the candies by color. For older children, follow up with a lesson in charting/graphing.

— Create a candle ring by cutting a wreath-shape from cardboard and using white school glue to attach the hearts.

— Gently press one or more hearts into the frosting of cupcakes.

— Use the candies as markers in a game of Bingo.

— Decorate crackers, cookies or toaster tarts with the candies by gluing them with a squirt of cake decorating gel.

— Draw a single heart from a bag and use its saying as a sentence starter.

— Make treat bags with messages from the Bible. One example: (Ask Me) Matthew 7:7 Ask and it will be given you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you (NIV).