Sailor’s Valentine, Black History Month

Black History Month. Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum

This is a very good example of a sailor’s valentine of the 1850s in the Stirling Smith collections. It is currently one of the objects highlighted for Black History Month.

Sailor’s valentines were made from tiny sea shells arranged in interesting patterns and encased in octagonal glazed boxes. Tradition has it that they were mainly purchased by sailors to be given to their loved ones when they arrived home from their voyage. Most of them were produced on the island of Barbados, and sold from a shop in McGregor Street, Bridgetown.

On account of Scottish interests in the sugar and slave trades, the West Indies and other Caribbean Islands have a great number of Scottish place names, and Scottish surnames are in the majority in the Jamaican telephone directory. As ‘exploitation islands’ not many manufactured goods came out of the Caribbean, and the sailor’s valentine is a rare exception. In spite of all of the Scottish interests there, the Caribbean is represented in the Smith collections by this and a packet of Jamaican chew stick toothpowder of the same date. Both were donated to the Smith in the 1930s.

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