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For Saint Valentine’s Day here is a collection of “sailor’s valentines”.  These were ostensibly a form of nautical art—like scrimshaw–created by old sea dogs in the days of canvas and manilla.  On the long voyages the grizzled sailors would tenderly glue shells together in wooden (particularly octagonal cases) to give to their family and sweethearts when they returned to port.  There is something appealing about this picture–but seashells come from shore.  Additionally one wonders how much craft space sailors were allowed in the age of wind.

A counter narrative has arisen that sailors would buy these shell designs from a merchant in Barbados who was responsible for most of the early examples.  Once the idea became popular, artisans began to make the little seashell mosaics at home. To be honest, I can picture my great-grandmother at a table filled with shells and glue much more easily than I can sea Captain Haddock putting together something like this. Whatever the case, the carefully arranged shells create delicate and lovely little artworks.  Even if they were not made by sailors or given at Valentine’s Day, I am repurposing them as a valentine to all of my readers!

To reiterate: Happy Valentine’s Day!

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