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Antique sailors' valentines -- sea shells crafts

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a modern sailor's valentine
Sailor's valentines are shell craft souvenirs that were brought back by sailors during the Victorian era (1830 to 1890). They are usually octagonal in shape and in the form of a glass-fronted box filled with sea shells arranged in a design.

While there is a romantic notion that these "valentines" were individually handmade by each sailor from sea shells he personally collected, most such souvenirs originated on the island of Barbados, as evidenced by newspaper remains seen in damaged sailor's valentines boxes.

Today they are a highly desirable collectible and are being reproduced in kit form by many artists.

How to make a sailor's valentine

Supplies

A typical sailor's valentine is made like most such shell crafts: a wooden or papier-mâché base, strong glue such as E6000, and an assortment of shells.

Tip: I also find tweezers helpful when placing the shells.

Start off by laying out the design you want to ensure you have enough of each type of shell. Adjust the design as needed, or acquire more shells. Once it is arranged to your liking, choose one shell and glue it in place. It is up to you whether you wish to begin in the middle of the design or around the edges.

Continue gluing shells in your design until the pattern is complete! The completed design can be framed for display.

Further reading

Sailors' Valentines Sailors' Valentines: Their Journey Through Time by Grace L. Madeira (Schiffer Publishing, 2006): While there is the usual history of the sailors' valentine, only the first section deals with actual antiques. Most of the book is given over to the work of modern artists. This is less useful than it could be unless someone is planning to have a reproduction made, especially for the amount of space it occupies within the book. Throughout the book, all the photos are large and full-colour though, so if you are planning to make your own, you do have plenty of good images to inspire you. Neptune's Treasures Neptune's Treasures: A Study And Value Guide by Carole Smyth (Carole Smyth Antiques, 1996): An excellent guide to the historical usage of sea shells for craft purposes. This spans from antiquity to TV lamps (1950s). Includes numerous colour photos of examples so that it is easy to identify like pieces. The value guide consists of a single page at the end. As this is an older book, I wouldn't trust the stated valuations.

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These books can be difficult to find since many are out of print. Some great places to buy used books online include:

Reproduction artists


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