The citizens of Provincetown, Massachusetts, gave this handmade sailor’s valentine to Mystic Seaport to welcome the Charles W. Morgan to the city, which has a long history of whaling. The valentine, created by artists Cate Ayolte, Matt Olke, and Kevin Foley, is made mostly from various types of shells and seeds arranged into words and decorative motifs and set around a scrimshawed image of the Morgan at the center.
Sailor’s valentines were popular keepsakes associated with seamen in the 19th century. Although they were popularly believed to have been made by sailors, researchers have found that most of these valentines were made by residents of Barbados as souvenirs to sell to sailors and travelers. Many sailor’s valentines made their way from the West Indies to the United States as seamen of all sorts brought them home to their sweethearts and families. The earliest examples of this kind of shell work were made in the early 19th century, and by the 1870s more elaborate designs had become popular, often featuring sentimental sayings such as “Forget Me Not” and “Home Sweet Home.” The style of the Provincetown sailor’s valentine closely resembles many historic valentines from the late 19th century.