Shells have entranced all of us with their variety of forms (there are over 100,000 species of shells) and bright colors since ancient times. They have been used as ornaments, tools and even forms of money. When England began colonizing all over the world, and sailors returned with exotic shells from the Far East and the Caribbean as souvenirs, the demand for shells became frenzied, and by the mid-19th century shell auctions were common, bringing high prices for the best specimens.
At the beginning of the 20th century, various manufacturers took advantage of these sailors’ desire to bring back to their loved ones back home pretty valentines and other items created from shells. It is said that Barbados, with its strategic location and variety of shells, was a primary location for the manufacture of dioramas such as this one. The best examples of pieces from this period can be found in museums.
This example features a color lithograph of a sailing ship in calm waters. The bottom section of the heart-shaped and convex-glassed diorama is covered in seaweed and shells. The diorama was made from a cut tube and placed upon a cut-out heart shape with shells that climb up to the top in concentric rows and two shell-covered splayed legs.
There is a small decorative piece of paper trim meant to hide the cardboard edge under the glass. It is backed with their original faux wood designed paper.
As with most shell-work pieces of this type, there are minor losses of shell.
It measures 8 inches high.
Heart-Shaped Edwardian Shell-Work Diorama