19th Century Sailor’s Valentine, circa 1870

19th Century Sailor’s Valentine, circa 1870

$4,800.00

19th Century Sailor’s Valentine, circa 1870, a hand crafted double “sailor’s valentine” shellwork picture featuring a central heart and the motto “From Barbados” within concentric rings of colorful shells, mounted in two hinged mahogany octagonal glazed cases.

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19th Century Sailor’s Valentine, circa 1870, a hand crafted double “sailor’s valentine” shellwork picture featuring a central heart and the motto “From Barbados” within concentric rings of colorful shells, mounted in two hinged mahogany octagonal glazed cases.

The valentine remains in very good condition. There are several loose shells collected at the bottom of the right hand case (ready for re-applying id desired). There is a horizontal crack across the left hand glass and another smaller crack at the bottom. Neither of these dampens the overall appearance of the valentine. The mahogany cases have age cracks on the back. There is some loss to the fillets holding in the glass panels, but all remains strong and secure.

These delightful pictures were brought home by sailor’s from a voyage at sea and given as presents to loved ones. It is easy to see how these gifts with their hearts and sentiments became known as “sailor’s valentines,” but the name is very misleading. Long presented and cherished as a sailor’s folk art, at least by dealers and collectors through the 20th Century, that myth was corrected by an article in the magazine Antiques in 1961, and most people now realize that these were not made by the sailors themselves but were purchased as souvenirs in the Caribbean and brought home by sailors as presents.

Most, if not all, of these objects were made on the island of Barbados, which was a very important seaport during this period. The main source for these shell pictures was the New Curiosity Shop, located in McGregor Street in Bridgetown, a popular shop where sailors would purchase souvenirs. The shop was owned by the English brothers B.H. and George Belgrave. It appears that the brothers employed a large number of Barbadian women to make the valentines using local shells such as Barbados Keyhole Limpets, Janthinas, and King Venus Clams, and in some instances incorporating some shells imported from Indonesia. Interestingly, the island women had a long tradition of creating beautiful designs from their local seashells, noted by visitors as far back as 1750.(6) It is generally believed that the inspiration for the octagonal cases came from ship’s compass boxes.

Measures: 9-1/4 in H x 9-1/8 in W 1-1/4 Deep each
Overall: 9-1/4 in H x 18-1/4 in W x 1-1/4 in Deep

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