Welsh Love Spoons, South WalesThough giving spoons as love tokens is not unique to Welsh history and culture, Wales has a distinct and elaborate folk custom in that regard.
Some sources, seemingly based on little more than imagination, see the tradition as dating back many hundreds of years. The earliest Welsh example of the art, however, dates from 1667 – displayed at the Museum of Welsh Life in St Fagan’s.
It appears the custom flourished from the late 17th century to the late 19th, though with occasional suitors still resorting to this method of plighting their troth even in contemporary times.
In brief, the tradition is that a young man would present the object of his affections with a spoon carved by his own hand in what leisure time he had – a beautiful gift that even the poorest could make. The present was a declaration of intention, its acceptance by the young woman a sign she reciprocated his feelings. Simple enough; but bringing with it layers of symbolism and multiple meanings.
Inevitably there is a physical, even sexual message in the thing. Spoons fit together like lovers holding one another. But on a more complex level the carvings could bring similar messages: if the stem included strands twisting together the meaning was again of joining; a carved bird or birds might mean the couple were in love; or it could indicate a wish to elope.
Other motifs had wider meanings: naturally the heart for love; a horseshoe for implied luck; a keyhole for security offered – though one again could suspect a sexual undertone.
The skill shown by the carver was an indication for the intended and by extension her family of the intensity of feeling, but also of the man’s future ability to work hard and provide for his family (the hoped for numbers of which were sometimes conveyed as balls in a cage or links in a chain).
If the original custom has (largely) gone the artefacts have not: Welsh lovespoons are sought after by collectors; and some of those purchased are used again as love tokens.
More British Folk Customs?