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Sailors' Valentines

Sailor's Valentine

October 10, 2012

Each year as fall rolls around, the Philadelphia Shell Show and Festival reminds us of the beautiful bounty of the oceans and also the many talents of the show’s exhibitors. One of the most exquisite visual delights of this year’s show, on the weekend of Oct. 20–21, will be a display of sailors’ valentines.

Sailors’ valentines are octagonal, hinged wooden boxes that display intricate symmetrical designs composed of different kinds of small shells. The meticulously placed shells create a mosaic inside the box, and a sentimental message is usually included in the center. Many of these works include a heart pattern formed by the shells, hence the name. A thin piece of glass is added to the front of the box to protect the artwork.

Sailors’ valentines were originally created by native people in Barbados in the1800s.  American sailors brought them home to their families or significant others as a token of their love.

Creators of the sailors’ valentines at the Philadelphia Shell Show will compete for prizes, and all the entries will be on display for the public to pick and choose their own favorites. A panel of experts will judge the entries, and those in many other categories, in private the night before the show opens.

The theme of this year’s show is Treasures Revealed: Shells of the Americas, and it is free with regular museum admission. There will be hundreds of shells to see and buy—in all colors and twists, shell jewelry, shell crafts, shell-you-name-it. To find out about the fun family activities, visit our website.