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What's the history behind fancy chocolate boxes?

Chocolate-filled heart-shaped boxes on store shelves became a familiar sight here at Atomic Antiques in the weeks before Valentine’s Day. But what’s the history behind these collectible items? Who invented the now ubiquitous heart-shaped chocolate box and filled it with treats?


Red heart shaped valentine chocolate gift box with gold rose detail and "to my valentine" written on the front.
All photos are of Atomic Antiques inventory.

The History of Chocolate's Popularity in England


Chocolate was enjoyed by people for centuries before the first box was offered as a gift, but in liquid form.  So called “drinking chocolate” was popular, partly because it was thought to be an aphrodisiac and possibly possess other medicinal qualities. But it was not until the middle of the 19th century that people started “eating” chocolate. J.S. Fry & Sons of England was the first company to combine cocoa powder with sugar and butter to create the very first edible chocolate. Soon after, its competitor Cadbury’s, also of England, introduced its own version.


Why do people gift chocolate for Valentine's Day?


Since Valentine’s Day was very popular during the Victorian Era, and chocolate was already associated with romantic love, Cadbury’s saw a great marketing opportunity.  The first gift boxes, often depicting idyllic landscapes, flowers, and cherubs, were designed by Richard Cadbury himself. He also introduced the first heart-shaped box. After consuming the chocolates, customers were encouraged to use the boxes for storing keepsakes. Cadbury never patented his invention, so his idea was adopted by chocolatiers around the world and remains popular to this day.



Red heart shaped chocolate box with intricate gold design and "Russell Stover" written on the side
All photos are of Atomic Antiques inventory.


History of Chocolate Box Design


In those days, chocolates were a luxury item, and this was reflected in their packaging. Ornate, high-quality boxes were worth keeping, and that is why we can still find them today at antique shops and estate sales. Nowadays, chocolates and the boxes they come in are mostly mass-produced. Their production having been standardized, chocolate gift boxes are now more functional, less ornate, and widely available.


Collecting Vintage Chocolate Boxes


Demand for antique chocolate gift boxes usually goes up in the weeks leading to Valentine’s Day, but many collectors search for these year-round. The boxes are collected for their different features: material, illustrations, shapes, colors, and manufacturers, to name a few. Of course, the rarer the boxes, the more valuable the collection!

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