Sailors valentines collection headed to auction in Mass.
Shell-work and folk-art collectors can bid on 60 pieces from Richard Mellon Scaife's collection from his Nantucket Island home when they go to auction Oct. 11.
Scaife, a Pittsburgh native and owner of Trib Total Media, which includes the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, died July 4 at the age of 82.
During his lifetime, he earned a reputation as a collector of fine art, folk art, 18th-century porcelain and memorabilia from the early days of American railroads.
Most of the items up for auction are late-19th and early-20th century decorative items, such as picture frames, boxes and mirrors emblazoned with intricate designs created from tiny pastel-colored shells.
Included are Victorian-era items, such as a 9-inch-tall sailor and his lady with wax faces who are garbed in outfits made from shells; a pair of woven baskets filled with bouquets of shell-work flowers; and an antique specimen cabinet topped with a glass-protected display of nine shell-filled panels.
The auction is Rafael Osona's traditional Columbus Weekend Auction on Nantucket Island, Mass., which will combine the Scaife collection with art, antique furnishings, decor, estate jewelry and carpets from other consignors.
Holding the auction in Nantucket was a logical choice, says Osona, who has run the auction house, which he co-owns with his wife, Gail, for 34 years.
“He was well-respected and everyone (on the island) knew him. Everyone wants something to remember him by,” says Osona, who knew Scaife as a customer and as a fellow resident.
Keeping the auction close to Scaife's Nantucket residence also decreased the risk in transporting items that have become delicate with age, Osona says.
The big attraction of the auction may well be Scaife's large collection of nearly three dozen contemporary and vintage sailors valentines, a little-known, but much coveted, reminder of New England's seafaring past.
“To see this many pieces in one place is quite a treat,” says Pamela Boynton, an artist who creates contemporary sailors valentines and also volunteers as the docent for the sailors valentines exhibit at the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum in Sanibel, Fla.
“Nantucket is the place you will find five or six places selling sailors valentines,” says Boynton, who plans to attend the auction as a researcher rather than a buyer. “It is the place to have this auction.”
For many mid- to late-19th century sailors, the Caribbean port of Barbados was the last stop before they headed home.
The sailors often purchased what came to be known as sailors valentines — 9-inch wide, octagonal wooden, glass-fronted boxes filled with intricately patterned, symmetrical designs created from literally hundreds of minute shells glued to a paper backing.
Hearts, flowers or a compass rose and an equally flowery sentiment — “Forget Me Not” or “Truly Thine” — made them the perfect love token or souvenir for those waiting for them back home.
“It was certainly a tourist item. They were smart in boxing them ... so they would travel,” Osona says.
They are now widely collected, says Osona, who recently sold a pair of 12-inch-wide sailor's valentine tables for $9,000 that were shipped to the new owner's London home.
He expects most of the items in Scaife's shell-work collection to fetch prices between $3,000 and $5,000 each.
There are avid collectors and people who have big collections, Boynton says: “It's a reasonably small world, but getting bigger.”
Auction previews take place 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 9 and 10 at the American Legion Hall, 21 Washington St., Nantucket Island, Mass. The auction begins at 9:30 a.m. Oct. 11. An auction catalog is available online. Telephone and online bidding will be available.
Details: 508-228-3942 or rafaelosonaauctions.com