The Sailor's Valentine
THE SAILOR'S VALENTINE
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.
circa 1880 Shells, fabric, and wood
The Mariners' Museum,
Gift of Descendants of Captain David Chapin Warren, The Ten Broeck Family
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.
Make a Sailor's Valentine:
Variety of shells, black and red beans, split peas, and
1. Cut the octagonal shape
of a sailor's valentine out of cardboard or heavy paper.
2. Using the glue, draw a design on the valentine.
3. Place shells, beans, corn, and peas on the valentine.
Be sure there is enough glue to hold them in place.
4. Let the glue dry, then glue the magnet to the bottom.
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