JohnsonYou may not know the name Esther Howland, but husbands everywhere curse her legacy.

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Katie Johnson: Thank Esther Howland for your storebought emotions

Published 12:47pm Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The supposed pioneer of the American Valentine industry, Howland received an English version of the sentiment in 1847 and compounded on the idea, importing lace and floral decorations from England for her homemade cards. Her creations were a hit, and soon she was bringing in $100,000 per year before her retirement in 1881.

Howland’s entrepreneurship produced a goldmine, making greeting cards the No. 1 gift today in American households on Valentine’s Day, followed by date night, candy and flowers, respectively. In fact, according to greeting card giant Hallmark, 180 million cards are exchanged each Feb. 14; nearly 50 percent are purchased in the six days before the holiday.

Don’t underestimate the retail power of Valentine’s Day. The average price of a dozen roses with vase (minus delivery charge) is $50 to $90, and those will begin to wilt within a week. The Web site iStockAnalyst estimates the average consumer will spend $103 this year (data varies from source to source). Despite the big chunk of change for a commercialized expression of love, Americans are expected to pare down spending this year.

Nothing says “I love you” or maybe just “I like you a lot” other than a $4 card with a cartoon teddy bear on it and a personal message you didn’t write. Then the gesture comes and goes as fast as you can say “manufactured romance.”

I don’t envy men on this day, and I have seen them “fail” over and over again with women. There are the guys who forget the day altogether, or the ones who go “cheap” and buy carnations, causing their girlfriends’ warped minds to believe their boyfriends don’t love them enough to spring for the roses. There are the men who empty their wallets on life-size plush animals, diamond heart necklaces and 60-minute-wait restaurant dinners at the Olive Garden. It makes you almost ashamed to be a woman. If that box of chocolates and bouquet of flowers in your favorite color is the make-it or break-it clincher in your relationship, it was already doomed.

It’s not to say there aren’t people who go out of their way to express their love in creative or extreme ways on Valentine’s Day or any other day. There are many. For example, the farmer who wrote “I love you” in cow dung and flew his wife overhead in a plane to see it. Or Richard Buton’s 69.42-karat diamond for Elizabeth Taylor. Or the $105,000 diamond, ruby and sapphire-encrusted toilet seat Ben Affleck gave to Jennifer Lopez.

An article on nbcwashington. com jokes that one-third of singletons this Valentine’s Day will spend their money on a fifth of Jack, 18 percent on a new Wii game and 11 percent will devour a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. That’s one hangover to remember.

Katie Johnson is managing editor of the Niles Daily Star, Edwardsburg Argus and Cassopolis Vigilant. She can be reached at (269) 687-7713 or at

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