Collecting Sailor’s Valentines

A sailor’s valentine is a (usually) sentimental gift made using large numbers of small seashells. They were generally made between 1830 and 1890 and were designed to be brought home from a sailor’s long voyage at sea and given to his loved one.  

A beautiful early 19th. century example of a sewing box/pincushion

They can take the form of a hinged box, a picture frame, a pincushion, etc. Some will incorporate a photo, a section of a greeting card, or a small original painting.

For many years it was believed that the sailors themselves made all of these objects. But, in recent times there has been speculation that a large number of them came from the island of Barbados, which was an important seaport. Historians believe that sailors desires may have created a cottage industry for the locals on this island.  

A spectacular pincushion

More research has shown that while many of these romantic objects were indeed made by sailors during long idle hours on the sea, a large percentage were indeed made by the citizens of Barbados.

Anchor shaped pincushion

Some have a religious aspect


Today antique sailor’s valentines are highly collectible and they can sell quite well at auction and at fine antique shows. They are valued for their beauty, craftwork, and sentimentality.   

“For My Pet” – wife, girlfriend, cat, dog?

And, not surprisingly, when put together into a grouping they make a wonderful display.   

There are contemporary artists making these today. So if you are collecting only vintage and antique sailor’s valentines be sure you look for signs of age before purchasing.

Contemporary artist-made sailor’s Valentine

Happy collecting!

Carol Fenn 1-2017