Florida is a haven for shell collecting enthusiasts, but what do they do with all those shells they collect? Display them somehow? One of the most beautiful and unique ways of displaying shells, that I’ve ever seen, is by way of an art form developed in the early 19th century. Sailor’s Valentines. I came across several of these at the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum while in Sanibel Island.
A few quick notes on this exquisite, detailed art form:
- They are not what their name implies. Sailors did not make them, and they were not given as gifts on Valentines Day.
- They were popular in the early 19th century during the height of the whale-oil industry. Sailors would purchase them for their loved ones while in their last port of call before returning home.
- The shell art form was developed by the women of Barbados and other Caribbean islands.
- The frames for the shell art are octagonal boxes.
- Several of the valentines contained romantic phrases such as “Forget me not.”
- According to several researchers,the primary source for these keepsakes was a shop in Bridgetown, Barbados called the New Curiosity Shop, owned by two English brothers. (Unfortunately the shop closed around 1880.)
This antique art form is now experiencing renewed interest. Kits and books on the subject can be found all around the state. The museum on Sanibel Island even provides a display making it look easy.
They are quite costly if you try to buy one from the early days, many going for as much as $16,000. Another option is to make one for yourself. At Sailors Valentine you can purchase a full Starter’s Kit, complete with frame, sanddollars and shells. That will only set you back about $134.oo. Otherwise, you can start collecting shells now and design your own shell mosaic.
I can see myself hanging one of these on my wall. But do I have the patience to first collect the large amount and variety of shells, then set out the pattern and carefully set each shell? Stay tuned.