Ever Thine
February 12, 2008 7:18 AM   Subscribe

Sailors' Valentines were, according to maritime myth, made by lonesome sailors at at sea in the early to mid 19th century. However, research revealed they were made by residents of Barbados and sold to sailors. These pieces, often in octagonal wooden boxes, are stunning examples of shellwork.

The craft has been taken up once again by some contemporary artists [warning, awful midi music in last link]. If you are still needing a gift for your sweetheart, you can buy one or make your own.
posted by piratebowling (9 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I thought the word "lonesome" in the phrase "lonesome sailors at sea" meant "horny". A box full of sharp objects is probably not the ideal gift in that case.
posted by DU at 7:47 AM on February 12, 2008

These are gorgeous; I've never even heard of them before. Thank you so much for sharing!
posted by headspace at 7:50 AM on February 12, 2008

Beautiful works of art, thanks for the great post!
posted by Daddy-O at 7:52 AM on February 12, 2008

Friggin' awesome, and I have a huge box of shells at home. Gonna start gluing!
posted by agregoli at 8:56 AM on February 12, 2008

Was expecting an FPP about WWIII.
posted by Eideteker at 10:52 AM on February 12, 2008

To clarify, they weren't all made by residents of Barbados. They were sold widely across the Caribbean and Pacific by indegenous people, especially during whaling days, and then American sailors picked up on the idea as well and made many of them on their own along with many other types of art and craft they practices. There are several examples of sailor-made pieces in the Nantucket Whaling Museum, New Bedford Whaling Museum, Mystic Seaport Museum, and others.
posted by Miko at 8:37 AM on February 13, 2008

Really great, timely post, though!
posted by Miko at 8:38 AM on February 13, 2008

Thanks for clarifying, Miko. I didn't feel much like getting into then specifics at first, and then when there was a lac of comments, I just kind of let it be. A book I read talked about one or two instances where they found notes explaining that sailors (on leave on one of the spice islands) had actually made the valentines. It was unclear whether the souvenir trade was inspired by the sailors originally making them on leave, or vice versa. They do know that quality varied greatly, and that nicer pieces were commissioned and made by Barbadian Cabinet makers. The other interesting factoid in the book on Sailors valentines, that while there are over 1,000 types of seashells world wide, the original 19th century valentines used only 35, all of which were native to Barbados.
posted by piratebowling at 6:11 AM on February 14, 2008

Oh, that is interesting. I'd like to read that book.

My gut would be that the sailors were inspired by the islanders rather than the other way around. But I always want to stick up for sailors, who were no slouches when it came to art. Some of the artifacts that have come out of the age of sail are astounding - beatiful handmade lace, scrimshaw carvings - not just designs on teeth but jewelry and carved sewing supplies and yarn swifts, paintings and sketches, modified large shells, woodwork and decorative knotwork - they really prided themselves on their crafting abilities at the height of the culture.
posted by Miko at 6:21 AM on February 14, 2008

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