Sailor's Valentine

Seashell mosaic

In the 1800s, life at sea required a sailor’s full attention, but at night, as the ship creaked back and forth, the crew’s dreams undoubtedly drifted home and to a lover’s embrace. When the boat returned many months later, the sailors came prepared with gifts from another land, a physical manifestation of their dreams, a sailor’s ­­valentine.

A sailor’s valentine is a mosaic of seashells inside an octagonal, or eight-sided, frame. It’s made entirely of small, colorful shells glued into place. In the center, a phrase or a simple heart said in one way or another, “Think of me when far away.” The gift usually came from quite a distance. In the 1800s, Barbados was home to an important seaport for Britain, beaconing ships thousands of miles across the Atlantic. The valentines were made by local women and sold to the sailors passing by.

Today, an original sailor's valentine is a prized possession. Each has a unique beauty and design that’s impossible to replicate. While collectors search for the valentines of old, many are making their own. Kits and patterns are readily available in many coastal towns, especially Fort Myers & Sanibel where the shells are abundant and beautiful. For inspiration, go to the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, where there’s a wonderful collection of authentic 19th century pieces.

Join in on this creative pastime by printing and coloring one of our valentine designs. Just give it to a loved one and you’ll feel some of the magic those original sailors felt long ago.

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