What are Sailors’ Valentines?

Everything you need to know about these unusual seashell-covered mementos...

sailors' valentine

Centuries ago, seashells were a popular material for making everything, from long, sautoir necklaces and cameo brooches to fancy boxes and ornaments.

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One of the most spectacular examples of ‘shell work’ can be seen at the National Trust property A la Ronde in Devon where, in the late 18th century, two cousins, Jane and Mary Parminter, decorated the upper gallery with 25,000 shells.

Shell work souvenirs were also purchased by mariners, who would bring home mementoes from their travels to give to loved ones. To meet the demand for shell work from visiting sailors, shops sprang up at ports on major trading routes.

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Local women made little shell-strewn pictures to hang on the wall, including heart-shaped Sailors’ Valentines. The origins of this lovely example (bottom left) are not known, but they could be from the Caribbean and were part of a 20-strong collection of shell work items that sold for £420 at Chorley’s in July 2020.

what are sailors' valentines