South Street Seaport Museum announces its Valentine’s Day offerings, now through February 14. For last-minute Valentine’s Day needs, stop by the storefront of 19th-century letterpress printers Bowne & Co. at 211 Water Street for a limited-time special selection of festive cards created using historic moveable type, image, and letterpress stationery perfect for your loved ones.
You can also Valentine Like a Sailor on February 11 & 12, 2023, from 1-5pm, at 12 Fulton Street, NYC. Bring 19th-century maritime craft tradition to your handmade Valentine’s Day cards. Attendees will create their own special trinket for the holiday and learn about the unique history of Sailors’ Valentines—tokens of love and friendship. For more information and to register for this free, all-ages event, visit seaportmuseum.org/valentine-like-sailor.
Historically, these small wooden boxes were given by seafarers to their wives, sweethearts, daughters, and loved ones when they returned from a long voyage. The small boxes open to reveal sentimental messages surrounded with intricate mosaics of shells and found objects arranged in exquisite geometric patterns and motifs such as hearts, anchors, and flowers.
Using beads, buttons, and shells, families and friends of all ages are invited to the Seaport Museum’s introductory galleries where we’ll continue the creative tradition together.
Be sure to review the latest COVID-19 protocols before attending.
A History of Sailors’ Valentines
Sailors’ Valentines were popular mementos for sailors aboard navy and whaling ships from 1830–1880 and are relatively rare today. Long considered fascinating examples of 19th century maritime craft tradition, wooden boxes open to reveal intricate mosaics created from shells of various shapes and colors. These boxes were often given by sailors as tokens of love and friendship to their wives, mothers, sisters, and friends upon a seafarer’s return from a long voyage.
Though these sentimental treasures are referred to as “Sailors’ Valentines,” many historians now believe most of these works originated in Barbados and the West Indies. Modern scholarship suggests that local women made these works, which were then purchased by seamen as souvenirs. As is the case with many works of art, correct attribution and historical understanding of these objects is evolving so that historians and institutions can shine light on historically under-recognized artists.
“Sailors’ Valentines” remain a beautiful and romantic part of New England maritime heritage and cultural exchange.
19th-Century-Style Letterpress Print Shop
No visit to the Museum is complete without a walk through Bowne & Co., Stationers. Make sure to stop by the Museum’s turn-of-the-century store where you can find designs created by resident printers using custom plates, historic fonts, and printing presses from the Museum’s working collection. Learn more about Bowne & Co. at seaportmuseum.org/bowne-co-stationers.
About the South Street Seaport Museum
The South Street Seaport Museum, located in the heart of the historic seaport district in New York City, preserves and interprets the history of New York as a great port city. Founded in 1967, the Museum houses an extensive collection of works of art and artifacts, a maritime reference library, exhibition galleries and education spaces, working 19th century print shops, and an active fleet of historic vessels that all work to tell the story of “Where New York Begins.” seaportmuseum.org
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