Updated: Aug 22, 2021
Although the exact origins of the Sailor's Valentines are not clear, we do know that they were given as a token of affection by sailors to their loved ones.
Sailor's Valentines were most likely not even made by the sailors themselves, but were handcrafted by women in Barbados, a popular destination amongst whaling ships at the time between 1830-1890. Sailors would then purchase these trinkets at souvenier shops while in port.
Sailor's Valentines are typically octagonal, glass fronted, hinged wooden boxes ranging from 8 to 20 inches in width, displaying intricate designs composed entirely of small shells of various colors glued onto a backing. Patterns often featured a centerpiece such as a compass rose or a heart design, hence the name, and in some cases the small shells are used to spell out a motto or sentimental message. You can see in the image below how intracate the design is.
This particular valentine c.1870 was brought back from a voyage by Captain Frank Dodge of Islesboro, Maine.