My interest in Shell Art began in the late 1990's. In 2002 I entered my first Shell Art show and started reading whatever I could get my hands on about the History of Sailor Valentines as well as hearing folklore stories. I read about a shop in
called the Curiosity Shop which was believed to be the source of many Sailors Valentines from the 1800's. So I started, by trying to come up with a date as to when the shop opened to give me an idea of when this form of art began, but was unable to locate the answer anywhere. Barbados
So in December of 2010 I contacted a Historian in
Barbados and another in and the search was on. After nine months of digging they found that B.H. (Benjamin Hinds) Belgrave opened his Curiosity Shop in 1878 and around 1895 his brother G.G.( George Gordon )Belgrave took over and operated the business until his passing in 1925. So I received the answer I was looking for,“1878” but ended up with a lot more information than I ever expected to find. Massachusetts
It was found that the Belgrave family history dated back to the 1700`s in Barbados and that they did not immigrate as thought from England. The researchers came across an article about shell art being created in Barbados in 1750 and also a society established there in the 1800`s creating shell art.
I also received a printed article about a couple on a steam ship voyage to
in 1845 purchasing a Sailors Valentine. All of this new information leads me to believe it could be possible that Barbadian natives were creating Sailors Valentines as far back as 1750, long before the Belgrave label ever appeared on Valentine cases in 1878. I wondered if I would be lucky enough to find who created the first valentine. Barbados
Well there is another fact to consider. In the book Sailors Valentines by John Fondas on 1800`s Valentines he states, “that out of 100,000 species of shells in the world only 35 were used, all local to Barbados.” Well this statement made me realize that when we go about creating this art form today we know that the shells we prefer generally come from warmer climates, such as the West Indies or
Photo from the book Sailors` Valentines written by John Fondas published by Rizzoli International in 2002.