The Lovespoon Story
(hand-carved wooden spoons and their history)
Published as: 'Lovespoons in Perspective', by Herbert E.Roese
in Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies, 1988,
The oldest Welsh lovespoon, dated 1667. Source: The Collection of the National Museum of Wales, St.Fagans.
PS: There is a growing awareness that the notion of the “cawl”/soup-spoon being ancestral to the Welsh love spoon, is erroneous. First of all, there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever, material or literal, to suggest that love spoons were carved before the mid-sixteen-hundreds. Secondly, research into the cultural habits of the Middle Ages, produces more and more insight into such customs, if any, as the making and giving of love tokens to women. That began with the troubadours (primarily noblemen), who performed love poems for their adored ones. But this was a very slow process and could only be appreciated by those who had had some education that enabled them to read and write and develop liberal ideals. Women had (to our modern ideas) a most deplorable position in society, well into the Renaissance (the period that followed the Middle Ages), even into the 19th century if one includes the Suffragette movement (e.g. Professor Robert Bartlett’s Inside The Medieval Mind, the UK-Open University). It is much more likely that the so-called love spoon was a product of the Late Renaissance. At that time (one could be tempted to say suddenly and fully developed as far as Wales is concerned), wooden spoons carved with "romantic" emblems emerged all over Europe but in conjunction with other everyday chip carved objects such as knitting-sheath, stay-busk, butter presses, small boxes, milk stools, walking sticks, etc, not as individual items. Why this does not appear to have been the case in Wales is a mystery, but may have had something to do with the prevailing rules of Puritan society at the time. Often the objects were part of a dowry and were given by the couple to each other as love tokens. Therefore, the source of love spoon carving and giving needs more serious research into the customs and traditions of society of that period, the 16th /17th century, rather than simply assuming that the custom had had an on-going, linear past (August 2010)
In fact, this has been done recently by David Western. His conclusions were published in 2012 in a book on the subject of wooden spoon carving: "HISTORY OF LOVESPOONS - The Art and Traditions of a Romantic Craft" (published by Fox Chapel, P.A., USA). I shall quote a few brief excerpts from his book, e.g. page 15, 'The Beginning': "Precisely why the humble spoon became such a romantic symbol is unknown, but several dated examples help tell us when the spoon-carving tradition began. We can be relatively certain it occurred in the mid-seventeenth century, around the same time it became more common to decorate and present other wooden utilitarian objects as gifts. At this time, the explosion of art and culture, which had worked its way northward from Italy and downward from the nobolity, reached the masses. Throughout Europe, the standard of living of the poorest citizens (...) improved slightly, allowing folk art to flourish". Also page 19, 'Similar Traits': "Despite primarily being made by rural folk of limited financial means who rarely journeyed more than a few miles from home, lovespoons from Wales and Sweden to the far reaches of the European continent share several similar traits. The use of simple chip-carving techniques, geometric patterns, and various romantic symbols are common to spoons carved throughout Europe". In a personal note he adds: "The more I research the spoon, the more it appears to me that metal spoons were indeed the inspiration for the idea of an ornately carved wooden spoon. They are so different from cawl spoons that I honestly don't see any connection at all. It's that spoon bowl shape which is the clincher for me. Combine that with the fact that 'lovespoons' were carved throughout Europe and the idea of a Welsh soup spoon spawning the entire adventure seems far-fetched".
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