Saturday, June 6, 2009

Les Souvenirs de Mer & Memories of Childhood Shell Collecting

Inkwell Souvenir, French ca. 1900

Souvenirs de Mer were very popular travel mementos in the early 1900s, especially in France. When visiting a coastal town one would be able to purchase these small handmade items which would have the name of the town inscribed somewhere on it. These could be purchased reasonably and took the shape of inkwells, salt and pepper holders, napkin rings and small jewelry boxes.

It seems to me in the sense of travelling souvenirs somewhat of a continuation of the Victorian Sailor Valentine (pictured below) that were purchased on long sea trips and brought back to their loved ones. The octagonal shape is representational of the Valentines of the time, this one is from Barbados ca. 1865 which would have been made by a local artist. These of course were much more intricate, but would have certainly brought something "exotic" back from abroad.

I know that my deep connection with shells started when I was very young. Growing up in Hawaii my sister and I spent a lot of time with my maternal grandparents on Maui. Their house a stone's throw away from the ocean, and my grandfather being a fisherman, I developed an almost focused obsession with combing the beaches for shells, broken glass and driftwood. My grandfather collected shells as well as glass balls in rope nets used as fishing flotation by the Japanese boats. My grandmother also picked shells with my sister and I, and my mom's younger brother had an affinity for driftwood and unusually shaped rocks. As you can imagine this created quite the collection of objects at their house! My collection is still there and probably needs a bit of sorting through after years of storage.

I am currently very busy working on shell projects so I am still amongst them, and I have my own collection of shell mirrors and boxes too. I also have a very charming example of Souvenir de Mer: a wonderful pair of small handpainted conch shell lamps from the Italian Coastal town of Rivazzurra, ca. them!

1 comment:

  1. Hi David, I have quite a number of these Souvenir de Mer.Sshould you be interested in them, please contact me on: and I can send you some pictures.