Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Unusual Artifacts: A Sailor's Valentine

Sailor's Valentine
Shell and wood, 1850-60
The Merseyside Maritime Museum

Here’s a Valentine fit for Olive Oyl.  Traditionally sailors in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries made items like this while aboard ship to give as a gift to their sweethearts and loved ones upon their return home.

These men at sea—who had quite a bit of extra time on their calloused hands—created decorative geometric arrangements of shells within a wooden case which was usually square or octagonal.  Often these tokens included a sentimental  motto such as “forget me not.”

This unusual anchor-shaped example is thought to have been made by a Mr. T. Whelan while in the Caribbean, and dates from between 1840 - 1860.  During the Nineteenth Century, anchor shapes, along with hearts and cupids, were a symbol of love and fidelity.   It is part of the exhibition of Liverpool’s Merseyside Maritime Museum.  

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