The Story of Sailor's Valentines evokes romance - majestic
sailing ships and long sea voyages, adventures in the
new world, and daydreams of loved ones across wide oceans.
Idle hours aboard whaling ships in the 1800's was thought
to be the time and place for crafting Sailor's Valentines.
However the creation of Valentines was actually a cottage
industry on the island of Barbados. Once a stopping
point on long sea voyages, sailors happily ordered and/or
purchased a Valentine to bring home and present to a
family member or loved one.
A true sailor's valentine was said to include
a flower design, a heart in any form, and a special
verse or message. Many of these pieces
had messages inscribed with small seashells such as
"Think of Me", " Timeless Treasure"
and "Forever and Ever". Some expressed a bit
of sadness which represented the feelings of men whose
jobs kept them away from home for long periods of time.
Many left a space for the insertion of a picture, perhaps
a wedding photo or a photo of the sailor and his sweetheart.
These works of art were made in octagonal wooden boxes
and were usually two sided and hinged, covered with
a glass overlay, and closed with a heart shaped lock.
When closed, the shell work is hidden and the glass
protected so that the Valentines could be stored safely
It has been discovered that other
Valentines were made during the Victorian era, later
described as "fancy work for ladies". Possibly
the shells used in the pieces were gathered by sailors
on their sea journeys.