Skip to content

Sailors's Valentine

This mid to late nineteenth-century valentine is on view at SPNEA's Beauport in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

Elaborate keepsakes known as "sailor's valentines," originally thought to be a shipboard craft, were actually made in Barbados and sold as souvenirs to homeward bound sailors. Today, anyone can make a sailor's valentine by collecting ordinary beach shells and gluing them in fancy patterns onto a backing.

Materials: All you need are a few dozen shells, white glue, and a stiff backing of wood or cardboard. If you want to make a circular valentine, trace a dinner plate and cut out the pattern. A shadow box, available at craft shops, is a nice way to display your valentine but is not essential.

Design: With clean, dry shells, begin your valentine by laying out the shells on a table. Start from the center with the most beautiful shell and build your design outward until it has about the same size as the backing. Shells can either lie flat or overlap, depending on how complex you want your design to be.

Gluing: Again, starting from the center, transfer the design to the backing, gluing each shell as you place it. Allow your sailor's valentine to dry thoroughly before hanging it on the wall or giving it to your sweetheart.
For extra color, use a colored background or paint the shells, either before or after you glue. Experiment with different types of shells, small rocks, sea glass, or other objects found on the beach.

Peter Gittleman, Director of Interpretation & Education

Sailors's Valentine