How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Shells

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With Valentine’s Day around the corner, I’ve been pondering a creative way to express my affection to my beloved. Not much of a Hallmark holiday kind of gal, I like to think outside the envelope.

Because we love boating together so much, I decided something nautical in nature would be a nice valentine theme. But a pair of fenders, tackle box or bait tank pump is not exactly the message I want to send. I’m looking for something unique, with a message all its own.

Of course, another year of Victoria’s Secret is probably what he would prefer…but I digress.

So on to the Internet I went for a little inspiration, where I soon stumbled upon the idea I was looking for in the form of an antique sailor’s valentine.

According to Sandy Moran, owner of Sailor’s Valentine Studio in Cape Cod whose website I landed upon, these tokens of affection were brought home by sailors after long voyages at sea and given to the journeymen’s loved ones. The tradition was popular from around 1830 through 1890 when maritime commerce and whaling was at its height.

Sailors_valetine
A true sailor’s valentine.

The site explains “a true sailor’s valentine was said to include a flower design, a heart in any form, and a special verse or message. Many of these pieces had messages inscribed with hundreds of small seashells such as Think of Me, Timeless Treasure, and Forever and Ever. Some expressed a bit of sadness which represented the feelings of men whose jobs kept them away from home for long periods of time. Many left a space for the insertion of a picture, perhaps a wedding photo or a photo of the sailor and his sweetheart.

The works of art were made in octagonal wooden boxes and were usually two sided and hinged, covered with a glass overlay, and closed with a heart shaped lock. When closed, the shell work is hidden and the glass protected so that the valentines could be stored safely for travel.”

Imagine being apart from your sweetheart for months, or years, not knowing at any given time where on the wide open ocean they were, or even if they would return. It’s easy to see how a sailor’s valentine would provide much-needed comfort while the sailors were at sea.

As I perused the site, I wondered about the story behind a beautiful sailor’s valentine pictured with the words “Forget Me Not” delicately incrusted on a hand-hone wooden box.

What did the sailor daydream of during his long voyages around the world? Who was the object of his affection and why? Who had owned the box after the couple died? Perhaps it was given throughout its history as a gift by someone not unlike myself looking for a unique way to say, “I love you, I need you, you are my world and no matter where I am you are with me.”

I also found sites that sell kits so you can personalize your own. Since the antique versions run as high as $10,000, I’ll probably take the more personal do-it-yourself route.

I better get busy! If I don’t, I am guessing I’ll finish mine just in time for Valentine’s Day 2014.

Columnist Lynn Selich resides with her Valentine in Newport Beach and founded OCSocialScene.com. Reach her at [email protected].

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