Sailors’ Valentines

My daughter Cathy, creator of Adore Your Place and my son Art recently sent my husband and I on a trip to Sanibel Island, Florida to celebrate our 50th Wedding Anniversary. There we truly experienced the magic of shells ( history of shelling) and spent hours and hours on the beautiful beaches of Sanibel shelling. I know what you are thinking, what is so great about finding some nice shells but anyone who has been to Sanibel understands the overwhelming magnitude and variety of shells that this island has to offer. I learned about shellcraft at Sanibels Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum on Sanibel Island where the displays are incredible., specifically these romantic Valentines, Sailors Valentines.



It was believed that Victorian sailors created beautiful Valentines out of shells to give to their wives, sweethearts and mothers on their return but later found that most of these valentines were made by local women of Barbados and purchased by the sailors to give to their loved ones.

ayp Sailors' Valentines 001 The intricate work of setting each different shell into a pattern is breath taking. Sailors’ valentines were typically fashioned in a two-sided hinged octagonal mahogany box between 8 and 15 inches wide protected by glass. Within the box were artistic arrangements of colorful and decorative designs composed entirely of shells. These symmetrical, mosaic-like creations incorporated floral, geometric, and heart-shaped motifs that often framed  sentimental inscriptions such as “To My Love”, “To My Sweetheart”, “Home Again” and “To My Beloved”  and were most often incorporated into a heart design. The popularity of sailors’ valentines peaked during the late Victorian era, illustrating the period’s interest in the collection and display of exotic objects. My Friday Find this week is a book called Sailor’s Valentines, Their Journey Through Time and now I can start my hunt for an authentic vintage Sailor’s Valentine well educated about the history of shelling and these unique Valentines; below some of my shell finds and the sweetest thing ever, my husband created a shell heart with our names in it. How romantic…


Sanibel 50th Anniv. Gift 097

If you are in the Sanibel area- This year the Sanibel – Captiva Shell Club will host it’s 76th Annual Shell Show in March where you can purchase Sailors’ Valentines from contemporary artists.  Fortunately, this is not a lost art and at the Sanibel Shell Show you will find beautiful, mind blowing  Sailors’ Valentines along with shells, jewelry and other decorative handmade pieces.

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  • Kate

    These Sailors Valentines are so unique, I’ve been searching for one for a long time.

    • Cathy Wolfram

      They are not easy to find :) but the hunt is fun.

  • Jayne

    After reading your article I would love to visit Sanibel and get to see these Sailors Valentines. Your husband’s valentine was so sweet, Wow 50 years, you are a very lucky lady.

  • Cathy Wolfram

    Sanibel is lovely and easy to navigate. I can’t believe my parents are married 50 years :)