Published 6th June 2013
It had often been thought that Victorian sailors who were miles away from loved ones and feeling homesick, would while away the hours of solitude by producing shellwork valentines as a present for their betrothed upon their return.
A 19th century Bermudan shellwork valentine (MA12/212)
In truth it is difficult to imagine that a burly man aboard a rolling ship would have the time and patience to sort and stick hundreds of shells in the delicate patterns that we see today at auction. The complex patterns of flowers and compass designs are increasingly popular with collectors. Usually in on octagonal case and in two sections, they can make up to £7,000 for a good example.
No doubt these valentines were gratefully received by WAGS waiting on the beach for the return of their bow. However, research has since shown that the majority of 19th shellwork valentines were in actual fact bought by sailors visiting Barbados, and were made by local women on the island. Despite the truth having been uncovered, the romantic notion of these pieces having been made aboard ship by a love struck sailor survives, as does their demand at auction. The Bermudan shellwork valentine example seen here in Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood’s forthcoming Maritime sale of 12th June 2013 is expected to achieve £350-£450.