Sailor's valentines are a form of seashell folk art developed in the early nineteenth century, particularly popular between 1830 and 1890. Octagonal boxes with a glass overlay served as frames for symmetrical designs that artists created, using small shells of different colours and sizes.
It was once thought that sailors made these valentines themselves, to pass the time at sea. Contrary to this belief, sailor's valentines were actually a cottage industry on the island of Barbados, the centre of supply and distribution for English, Dutch and North American ships. It is recorded
that the primary source for sailor's valentines was the New Curiosity Shop, located in Bridgetown. The shop was owned by English brothers B.H. and George Belgrave.
The valentines were usually assembled by female residents for sailors to purchase and bring back to their loved ones at home. The craftswomen would often include romantic phrases and flower and heart designs.
The sailor's valentine featured above belongs to Georgina Mercer of Bishop's Cove, NL. The valentine was gifted from her uncle and has been in Mercer's family for decades.