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VALENTINE'S DAY / VALENTINE'S DAY SYMBOLS / Scrimshaw & Cameos

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Scrimshaw & Cameos

Many sailors would scratch designs on tusk, bones, ivory or wood as a token of love. This is known as scrimshaw today. Long flat decorated scrimshaw were often meant as corsets stiffeners known as busk and stays. Some carved messages into them. And it is also rumored that talented sailors would often carve images of their fair ladies on conch shells (known as cameos) because photos were not invented yet. Or.... in some cases they carved images of themselves on conch shells to leave with there true loves to remember them. The male cameos are more rare than the female ones. In other cases, the men would carve pictures of Gods on the cameos or scrimshaw and give it to their loved one as an omelet of love and protection for them.

Here is a poem written from a sailor to his sweetheart when he sent her carved scrimshaw whalebone busk.

Accept, dear girl, this busks from me
Carved by my humble hand.
I took it from a sperm whale's jaw
One thousand miles from land.
In many a gale had been the whale
In which this bone did rest.
His time is past, but his bone at last
Must now support thy breast.

I find this the most phenominally personal gift from a man to women in that day. Today, if a man gave a woman say a Victoria's Secret bra or lingerie, it would not be considered that intimate as in the Victorian times when a man literally carved the support bones for his woman's corsets!

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