H.M.S. Valerian Brass Boot
Sailor Folk Art, c. 1923
Valerian sailor folk art

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Valerian sailor folk art

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Detail of match holder

Detail of match holder

H.M.S. Valerian Brass Boot
British: c. 1923
Brass and copper
5.75 x 4 x 1.75 inches
$800

A charming brass and copper match safe holder and striker in the form of a woman's boot.  This piece of maritime folk art was handmade from scrap metal between 1920 and 1923 by sailors (possibly boilermakers) serving on the H.M.S. Valerian, a British Royal Navy sloop.  The brass boot is decorated with a scalloped top, seven brass buttons, and engraved decorations, including a flowering plant the length of the boot -- possibly a reference to the fact that the Valerian was part of a group of minesweepers named for flowers and known as the "Flower Class," though the plant depicted is not a valerian plant.  On the back is a hinged strip that swings forward to stand the boot up (like an easel).  The copper match holder/striker, also welded to the back, is engraved with the ship's name, dates and the makers' initials, and also engraved with hatch lines for striking a match.

During the 19th century and into the 20th, sailors adopted various crafts such as cutting and engraving metal (as well as the more familiar knot tying, whale bone scrimshaw and sailors' shell valentines among others) to pass the time on board ship or as a hobby after retirement.  The items they crafted were often made as gifts for their wives or sweethearts back home, and also were sold or bartered by the sailors aboard ship or at port. 

The H.M.S. Valerian was launched in 1916, under the Emergency War Programme for the Royal Navy during World War I.  After the war, it frequently sailed in the Caribbean.  The ship was destroyed in 1926 when it foundered during a particularly powerful hurricane off the coast of Bermuda, taking the lives of 88 crew members out of 107 then on board.

Inscription on back: "H.M.S. Valerian.  N.A. & B.W.I.  1920-23."

Condition: Generally very good with usual wear and patina.

References:

"Arabis Class Sloop." Wikipedia.  10 June 2011.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arabis_class_sloop (10 June 2011).

Forbes, Keith Archibald.  Bermuda Online. 8 June 2011.  http://www.bermuda-online.org/history1900-1951.htm (10 June 2011).


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