Collecting Antique Sea Shells

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve loved collecting things. {I’m sure you’re not surprised about this, right?!}  One of the most special vacation memories I have was when my Mom and I went on vacation to the seashore in Noordwijk, Holland.  It sparked my love of Collecting Antique Sea Shells.

It was special mostly because my Mom and I always went together with our grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins to our family forest and stayed in the little vacation homes my aunts and uncles had there.  It was heaven on earth for me and my cousins- there was a huge outdoor pool, a tennis court, acres of woods to explore, even a fruit orchard. But that year Mom decided to take just the two of us to the ocean.

mothers day gift guid


We were there for a week, and I mostly remember these things: 1. She let me wear my very best dress, with little red roses woven in the fabric and gold threads. {see photo above} 2. We bought white chocolate in a shop near the water. It was the first time I’d ever seen white chocolate! 3. I fell in love with shells and collected so many shells to take home as gifts that I had to lug a heavy bag of them with me on the train back home.



Seashells have always had a special allure through the ages. They are really gifts of the sea, and come in so many colors and shapes.  Collecting sea shells is a tradition that goes as far back as the 16th century. Shells were rare, and very expensive in the late 1500’s.  Royals were so enamored with sea shells that they built whole rooms to display these treasures from the ocean. Archduke Ferdinand II had four huge rooms filled with shells, amber, fossils and branches of coral in the 1500’s. For the next 3 centuries shells remained desirable and a sign of great wealth.


You can read more about the history of shell collecting and shell art HERE >

Collecting Antique Sea Shells


Shell Art Boxes


Making boxes for sewing, jewelry or the vanity became a beloved hobby in the Victorian era. There were little booklets with patterns and instructions, and women could either gather their own shells at the seashore, or buy shells from shell dealers.

The shells had to be soaked in fresh water for a few hours. Some shells were shiny by themselves, but if they lost their luster when dry, a wash of mostly water with a little glue could bring some gloss back to the shells. Periwinkles, which was the most popular shell lining the edges of almost every single box from this time, needed a little extra work. These shells have a gray outer scale which needed to be removed with acetic acid so that the beautiful pearly iridescence could be revealed. It was such a beloved and popular hobby!  It also means that almost each and every antique shell covered object is a one-of-a-kind piece.

Collecting Antique Sea Shells


Collecting Antique Sea Shells


In summer, especially, decorating with shells and antique shell work is a lovely nod to the season.  I have a huge antique glass jar on my mantel filled with seashells, and an antique platter on our table in the living room filled with shells and one of our ocean candles.


Collecting Antique Sea Shells


Collecting Antique Sea Shells


I love decorating a bathroom here at FrenchGardenHouse with shell antiques!




We have a few recent acquisitions at FrenchGardenHouse that are wonderful additions to your collection, or the beginning of one!  Not just shell work, there are antique French boxes with shell paintings, antique trade cards, some antique Victorian actual Sea Moss pages that are great to frame, antique Greetings from the Seaside postcards and more.

Collecting Antique Sea Shells


Collecting Antique Sea Shells

Collecting Antique Sea Shells

Tuck a few of these kinds of antique Trading Cards on a mirror over your mantel, or display on a shelf of books for summer.

Antique French shell card
Antique shell card

Great to frame, antique specimen pages are so beautiful! I love framing a grouping of antique sea side postcards too. I rotate the art work in our guest bathroom seasonally, and having some of these kinds of things ready to go makes creating seasonal decor so easy!

Collecting Antique Sea Shells

Antique sea side postcards

There are so many fun things with a shell motif to decorate with! Bring out your antique silver with shells too! I have such a fondness for silver with a sea shell design, and collect spoons, serving pieces with shells, and little shell shaped salts.


nautical antiques

Nautical Antiques

And then there are oyster plates!! If you have read me for awhile you know I don’t love the actual eating of them, {don’t hate me, I talked all about eating oysters with great style here >} but I love decorating with the plates!


This image is not from our home, but one of the gorgeous photos of the design work of the late Charles Faudree. But see how beautiful decorating with the oyster plates is?!



I’m wishing you great fun collecting antique sea shells of any and every kind!


I am adding some links for those of you who are always emailing saying please link in your posts. And apologize to a few of you who are not a fan of the links! Just ignore them then, please.  I can’t make all of you happy all the time, but I’m trying!!


Shop Recent Acquisitions >


Shop Silver >


Shop Porcelain & Pottery >

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Shop Summer Gift & Decor >



Happy Summer dear readers!

Do you collect sea shells and|or antique sea shells?




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7 thoughts on “Collecting Antique Sea Shells”

  1. You make me happy all of the time. I learn so much, enjoy the beauty you show and love to hear about your childhood.
    Thank you so much for all that you share,

    1. Melinda, thank you so much, that is so sweet of you to say! I hope you have a gorgeous and blessed Sunday! xo

  2. Theresa Keller

    I love sea shells too and have a clear lamp base full along with a vintage apothecary of my grandmothers. All of the shells came from SC and Fl. And my mom and I picked them all up.
    Thank you for this post!
    Will use some on a platter too!!

    1. Theresa, how wonderful that you have beautiful shells and the memories connected to your grandmother and Mom too. I love it! Happy summer decorating to you! xo

  3. What great memories of your childhood.
    I love shells just like you,honestly who doesn’t.
    Adore your stories and your curiosities about vintage and antiques

    1. Thank you Anja! I hope you are having a beautiful summer! xo

  4. Virginia Ann Bauer

    I am 76 yrs old and have been collecting sea shells for over 25 yrs. I display them in all sizes of gum ball machines/unique glass containers I am still buying and accepting sea shells from my family/friends and even strangers at a local farmers market in Royal Oak MI I have the larger ones in all mr flower beds in the Spring I get out all the shells in containers/gum ball machines etc. And have a fantastic display on my back yard driveway I just love to look at them everyday and late Fall I. Put them all away on my garage for the winter. I just.wish..I could find more seashells from other countries of course those would remain in my house on display for safekeeping. My biggest one is a “large melon” fantastic I managed to buy in Royal Oak flea market for $50. I just had to have it for my collection kept in my house. I have to stick to a strict budget always at my age but perhaps if some else reads about me and my COOL seashellss maybe someone will be generous to this old lady and send me some seashells. I would truly appreciate that very much. Oh I have about 40 different size gumball machines filled up seashells are so cool. I would be more than happy to reimburse anyone their mailing expenses
    Thanks for letting me share my Great experience about my seashell collection. Virginia Bauer

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