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It is generally believed that the lovespoon originated in Wales hundreds of years ago and the earliest example, from 1677, is kept at the Museum of Welsh Life (also known as the Welsh National Folk Museum) at St. Fagans in Cardiff. It is not known when the custom of making lovespoons started and it is possible that many undated pieces could be even older than this specimen.
At a time when most people could neither read nor write, they used symbols. Wood furniture was made by hand and then carved with hearts, flowers, animals, birds or shapes. Lovers would cut a heart into the bark of a tree and put their initials inside. Most utensils were wood with spoons for eating made from sycamore or birch as these do not absorb flavours, do not taint the food and can withstand repeated washing and drying. The lovespoon developed from the “cawl” (Welsh broth or soup) spoon which was curved and long-stemmed with a hook at the top, and the bowl was big and deep.
At some point, the giving of spoons as a token to a beloved was begun and the different symbols used came to represent many meanings. Young men would carve a spoon and offer it to a girl they desired, who would perhaps have been given tokens by several of her suitors. If she accepted his advances they began courting and this could be how the expression “spooning” or “to spoon” came about.
The practice of giving spoons as a gift on marriage can be found in Celtic lands, Iceland, Switzerland, Scandinavia and Yugoslavia, and ancient Britons carried one on the day of marriage. However, there is no evidence that the Welsh lovespoon was given as a marriage spoon. Different areas of Wales tended to have designs related to the area or their trade. For example, men from coastal areas carved ships and fish such as salmon, while men from inland would carve vines, flowers and wheat; however, specific patterns were not confined to particular areas and many depicted geometric designs. Sometimes inscriptions were written on paper which was then inserted under a glazed panel.
The more decorative spoons would be made of any available wood and it is not unusual to find them made of yew, boxwood, oak, laburnum or even thorn and fruit woods, including wild cherry, as well as lime, beech, elm, rosewood, sweet chestnut, walnut, mahogany and sometimes olive wood. All chosen for their colour, texture and grain. The practice of giving lovespoons was widespread during the 18th and 19th centuries. In more modern times lovespoons have been bought as a souvenir and memento of a visit to Wales. However, the tradition of giving them as a token of affection has seen a revival and it is now possible to commission a lovespoon with your own choice of carvings and motifs. They can be given as gifts for a christening, wedding, engagement, birthday, anniversary, etc.
Some spoons are only a few inches long whereas others can be as much as 3 feet in length but they are traditionally all made from a single piece of wood (“spon” in old English). Usually the handle is highly decorated with a single bowl although double bowls are popular and some are triple bowled.
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