Lovespoons instead of an engagement ring? It’s a Welsh custom that dates back to at least the 17th century—no examples before that date survive. Lovespoons were a symbol of courtship, a way of stating your intentions to go “steady” with the girl to whom you presented the spoon.
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During the 17th century wood was a readily available substance. Everyday bowls and utensils and simple wooden furniture were carved during long winter evenings or when bad weather made it impossible to work outdoors on the farms. Sycamore, beech and applewood were some of the first woods used.
Carving a spoon was an inexpensive and handy way to formalize a relationship between a couple.
The first spoons carved were essential utilitarian ones needed for cooking. But, as time progressed, ornamentation was added to the spoons, and it became not just a symbol of courtship, but also a way for a man to show off his skills at carving.
This required the handle to be widened, although the bowls always remained plain. The spoons were then no longer used for practical purposes but hung on the walls for decoration as works of art.
The main tools used to carve a spoon consisted of pocketknives, chisels, a file, and, perhaps a small axe—whatever was at hand. Untalented lovers hired local craftsmen to carve for them.
The lovespoons were, and still are today, carved from one piece of wood.
Many of the designs have a Celtic influence—such as an interlaced ribbon for life everlasting—or designs would represent everyday items: trees, flowers, birds, bells, rope chains.
The heart, quite naturally, was the most used design. Designs of special significance to the individuals involved were often added. A fisherman might have an anchor; a farmer might add a scythe. Fruit stood for fertility, a tool for hard work, bells for marriage, a key for the key to my heart and home, trees for a long and happy life.
Today, engagement rings have taken the place of lovespoons, but they are still given for special occasions—a wedding anniversary, Valentine’s Day, Christmas, or, perhaps, purchased as a souvenir of a holiday in Wales.
The Brecknock Museum, located on Captain’s Walk, Brecon, on the A40 Brecon-Abergavenny Road, has a display of love spoons. Open Monday-Saturday throughout the year and on Sunday in summer. Phone 01874 624121 for opening hours.