This octagonal wooden box opens to reveal a message of love. It is called a Sailor’s Valentine – these were popular gifts for seamen to bring home at the end of a voyage and give to their nearest and dearest.
Sailor’s Valentines were made during the late 18th to early 19th centuries by gluing seashells onto cotton batting in intricate patterns. Favourite motifs included hearts, roses and other flowers – some even featured anchors and other maritime symbols. Tiny, delicate shells and seeds were arranged to form a geometric mosaic, often including a sentimental message – Forever Yours, Think of Me, Ever Thine….
For years, people thought that sailors themselves crafted Valentines like this one. Possibly something to while away the hours on board ship - much in the same way that they made scrimshaw from the teeth of whales. We now know that Sailors’ Valentines are in fact souvenirs. They were mostly made by local women in Barbados, then sold by two enterprising Englishmen at their shop in Bridgetown – intriguingly called Belgrave’s Curiosity Shop. As the last stop en route home after many months at sea, Barbados was the perfect place to look for a gift.