More than just Seashells in the Eastern Caribbean

By Lori Verderame

The Caribbean is a great site for sun worshippers as well as collectors. Seashells were the first collectibles dating back to the golden age of sea exploration. In the 1500s thru the 1800s, sailors brought home seashells of all kinds from exotic locales. These seashells were made into many different conversation pieces once the seafarers returned home. For example, this giant sea shell was re-purposed into a sterling silver presentation object for the service of spirits. This 17th Century antique featuring a giant shell sold has a market value of $5,000.  Today, seashells continue to be of interest to collectors and some of the best seashells are found along the world’s best beaches—like those in the Caribbean. We look for seashells all over and share the experience of hunting for shells with friends and family members.

Throughout the Caribbean, there are many seashell aficionados who enjoy business and pleasure shoreside. You can find native sellers offering large conch shells direct from the waters for sale for $5 to $10 in ports such as Nassau and Princess Cays, Bahamas. Ever popular beaded sea shell necklaces and shell crafts are priced at $10 to $20. Caribbean shops feature shells and other handicrafts. For example, hand-made items produced from native materials like shells or straw are popular. Straw is dyed and woven into many different functional objects like purses, wallets, and pouches and available throughout the islands.

Shell crafts in St. Barts

Collecting seashells is a must when you visit the lovely and luxurious town of Gustavia, St. Barts. I purchased a fabulous hand-crafted seashell birdhouse from a lovely shop in Gustavia during my last visit to the island. As expected, the price was not cheap but the shop owner was good enough to give me a discount. I prefer to collect objects that relate to a travel site so my seashell birdhouse was just the right collectible to help me to remember my time in St. Barts. St. Barts is not only known for its exclusive shops, high end fashion, impressive yachts, and celebrity sightings, but it is also home to one of the world’s best beaches…aptly called Shell Beach. Shell Beach is a short 10 minute walk from the center of town. The good news is that you do not have to hike up the major hill that separates the main street in Gustavia from the rest of the island to get to Shell Beach. Like much of the Caribbean, there are only a few basic criteria for enjoying yourself in St. Barths…you need sunscreen, a towel, and a smile. The island does the rest for you.

Ceramics of blue and white

The Caribbean islands are known for their ceramic objects. Some of the most impressive pottery offered in the Caribbean is available on the island of St. Maarten. St. Maarten has a diverse history as the island shares territory with both the Dutch and the French. The Dutch side of the island is brimming with activity. The French side has a carefree feel. On the bustling Dutch side of St. Maarten, Delft pottery is made and sold in shops throughout the town of Philipsburg. This high quality blue and white porcelain is named for the Delft region of the Netherlands where the pottery was first produced and widely traded. Today, Delft wares are highly sought after for its high quality pure white ceramic body, characteristic blue and white coloring, and floral patterns and decoration. A quality piece of Delft can command $50 to $500 depending on the condition of the piece, quality of the decoration, functionality, and size. Feel free to politely negotiate on price when shopping for souvenirs.

Big buys in Puerto Rico

If you are looking for a more significant object to remember your Caribbean excursion, consider shopping for mahogany furniture in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The port of San Juan, Puerto Rico, is well known for historic sites, masonry fortress, stunning harbor, and of course, Bacardi rum. And, it is a treasure trove for the antique furniture collector. If you are looking for that perfect piece of mahogany furniture, San Juan is the place for you. Small scale tables, chairs, and case or chest furniture are very popular for new travelers to Puerto Rico. Mahogany has been an important wood source there for centuries and the shopping options are endless. While some hesitate to purchase a large scale item far from home, in Puerto Rico—like in all areas of the Caribbean—there is no need to worry. The local shop owners are helpful and will assist with shipping items.

From the small scale seashell to that one of a kind piece of mahogany furniture, shopping and collecting cool souvenirs in the Caribbean can be a fun and unforgettable experience.

Dr Lori Dr. Lori Verderame is a celebrity antiques appraiser, author, and award-winning TV personality. With a background in art, antiques, and museums, Dr. Lori holds the doctorate from Penn State University and hosts antiques appraisal events worldwide. She is the star appraiser on the Discovery Channel worldwide. She sails on Regent Seven Seas Cruises and offers talks on various destination and special interest topics. Visit or follow her on Lori Verderame on Google+. Dr. Lori will sail on  Seven Seas Navigator to the Caribbean in December 2013 and January 2014.

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