However, it is now known that the majority, at least, were created onshore in the West Indies and were sold to sailors as souvenirs.
In his book Sailors’ Valentines John Fondas concludes that the primary source for sailors’ valentines was the New Curiosity Shop, located in McGregor Street, Bridgetown, Barbados. The shop was owned by the English brothers BH and George Belgrave.
An unusual variation on the usual octagonal shell collage is the terrarium. A pair of these, intricately modelled as flower and birds under glass domes was included in the sale at Mallams (25% buyer’s premium) in Cheltenham on June 29.
Standing at 18in (46cm) high and with wooden bases, these found a winning online bid of £3600, well above the £300-500 estimate.
An early 20th century marble sculpture of a young girl with her hand raised by the Italian sculptor Donato Barcaglia (1849-1930) topped the sale sheets at £10,200 (estimate £5000-7000).
A regular at the international exhibitions from the 1870s, Barcaglia was renowned for his exceptional talent in depicting the female form in marble. His most famous work Amore Accieca, which won a gold medal in Florence, has sold at Christie’s twice: for $68,500 in 1999 and $167,300 in 2004. Mallams’ much smaller group measured just under 3ft 3in (1m) high.
A KPM plaque painted with a genre scene titled The Violin Recital signed by J Foyl was estimated at £500-700 but sold for £1400, while a pair of late 17th century English (probably London) delft baluster vases decorated in the Ming style, with figures and landscapes, doubled hopes at £1100.