Large Sailor's Valentine, Circa 1880

Large Sailor's Valentine,
Circa 1880

The large single sailor's valentine is composed from a variety of shells in concentric and geometric patterns, centred with a heart motif, surrounded by three flowers; within an octagonal stained wood frame.

A sailor's valentine is made of one, or, more often, a hinged pair of octagonal wooden display cases lined with fabric. Small shells, seeds, or other materials are glued to the fabric, usually forming a colorful design. The name "sailor's valentine" comes from the fact that there is usually a sentimental phrase, such as "Forget Me Not," "With Love," or other sayings that we use on Valentine's Day. The shape is thought to come from old compass cases carried aboard sailing ships.

Seashell collecting became popular by the early 1800s, especially in England and America. By the mid-1800s, sea shells were brought back from the Caribbean to Europe and America for use in home display cases. This interest in shell collecting may have later inspired the idea of the sailor's valentine, and the intricate shell display cases influenced the busy designs of these affordable souvenirs of sea voyages.

Research has discounted the long-held belief that these were made by sailors themselves as shipboard diversion. Several facts point to the West Indies, and particularly Barbados, as an origin for sailor's valentines. The West Indies had enjoyed close economic ties with England and America since colonial times. Barbados, easternmost of the British West Indies, was an important port of call for ships engaged in trade among the islands. The sailor's valentine on display in the Museum is representative of many that were purchased by seamen in Barbados during the late 1800s.

Adapted from an article by Richard Malley, "Captain Warren's 'Souvenir from Barbados,'" published in the Fall/Winter 1987-88 issue of The Mariners' Museum Journal.

(Ref: NY9935-iurr)

Dealer Earle D. Vandekar of Knightsbridge, Inc.
Date: 1880
Origin Barbados
Measurements 13.86 inches wide x 13.82 inches (35.2cm wide, 35.1cm high)
Inventory View Dealer's Inventory
Price 8,500.00
Contact Paul Vandekar, 212-308-2022 or

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