February 14 is Valentine’s Day. But do you know the Sailor’s Valentine?
The day first became associated with romantic love within the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th century, when the tradition of courtly love flourished.
In 18th-century England, it evolved into an occasion in which lovers expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending greeting cards (known as “valentines“). In Europe, Saint Valentine’s Keys are given to lovers “as a romantic symbol and an invitation to unlock the giver’s heart”
A sailor’s valentine is a form of shellcraft, a type of mostly antique souvenir, or sentimental gift made using large numbers of small seashells. These were originally made between 1830 and 1890, and they were designed to be brought home from a sailor’s voyage at sea and given to the sailor’s loved one or loved ones.
Sailor valentines are typically octagonal, glass fronted, hinged wooden boxes ranging from 8 to 20 inches (20 to 51 cm) in width, displaying intricate symmetrical designs composed entirely of small sea shells of various colors glued onto a backing. Patterns often feature a centerpiece such as a compass rose or a heart design, hence the name, and in some cases the small shells are used to spell out a motto or sentimental message.
Although the name seems to suggest that the sailors themselves made these objects, a large number of them originated in the island of Barbados, which was an important seaport during this period. Historians believe that the women on Barbados made the valentines using local shells, or in some cases using shells imported from Indonesia, and then the finished products were sold to the sailors.