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How To Make a Sailors Valentine

Sailor’s Valentine – “A Present/Think of Me”, shell, cedar, glass, metal, cotton, tintype, ca. 1895. Courtesy of Strong Museum.

Centuries ago, Sailors’ Valentines were handmade gifts by sailors to be given to their girlfriend or wife. I can only imagine just how difficult it must have been to be a sailor in the 19th century and to be away from his true love for months, possibly even years at a time. There certainly was no form of constant communication like phones or the internet, and there was no mail delivery at sea. A sailor could write a letter to his love and mail the letter when he was in port, but mail to him would be sporadic, if at all. It would require a great deal of devotion to remain bound to someone you couldn’t see or talk to with any regularity.

No doubt, the sailors chose their vocation to either provide or to prepare to provide for his loved ones. Hard economic times have always plagued our world and people have always done what was necessary to earn a living. I don’t deny there were some who loved the sea and longed for adventure, but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t also desire to be with the one they loved.

Some believe that the sailors spent months collecting unique and beautiful seashells during their travels and personally make intricate, detailed seashell artwork. When they returned home they would present these labors of love to their betrothed or wife as a symbol of their constant devotion. It would say to the recipient ‘I was thinking of you always’ without a word having to be spoken.

My Sailor’s Valentine
Today making a sailor’s valentine is not as difficult as it would have been in generations past. We can purchase seashells by the pound and pick through the bags for the perfect shell. There are even kits available to purchase if you want to make a specific design without the hassle of searching for the right size, shape or color shell.
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