: Collections & Research

Secret Messages of Love: Archaeological Finds of an Amorous Kind

Elena Johnston, 14 February 2024

Last year, 77 finds from across Wales, all over 300 years old, were reported as treasure. My favourite treasure cases are the ones that include jewellery, especially rings. Yes, they are beautiful little objects, but they are also very personal items each with a story to tell.

I often wonder how these prized possessions end up in buried in the ground. Perhaps lost on a countryside stroll, the owner only realising with a jolt of panic once they have returned home. An argument between lovers perhaps, resulting in a ring being thrown across fields in a fit of rage. Or the remembering of a loved one with the private placing of the ring at a shared special place.

Love, in one form or another, is the common theme here, so to celebrate Valentine’s Day let’s take a closer look at some of the rings recently declared treasure in Wales.


A gold posy-ring dating from the late 1600s to early 1700s (treasure case 21.26 from Esclusham Community, Wrexham). The inscription inside reads ‘Gods providence is our inheritance’.

Gold Posy-ring.

Posy rings were used to communicate secret messages of love, faith and friendship between the giver and the recipient. The wearing of hidden words against the skin offering a poignant, intimate connection.



A medieval gold fede or betrothal ring, decorated with engraved leaves and flower heads (treasure case 21.14 from Bronington Community, Wrexham).

Gold Fede or Betrothal Ring. 

The inscription on the outer surface reads ‘de bon cuer’ which means ‘of good heart’. The ring forms part of a hoard of coins and finger-rings dating to the Wars of the Roses during the later 15th century.



A gold finger ring, dated 1712, (treasure case 19.41 from Llanbradach and Pwll y Pant Community, Caerphilly).

gold finger ring.

The initials A. D. and E. P. are inscribed either side of two joined hearts, representing the names of the couple betrothed or married.



Remember to keep an eye on our social channels for new treasure declarations and please do check out our website to find out more.




I’ll finish with a few FAQs about Treasure - everyone has heard of it, but what does it mean?


How is Amgueddfa Cymru – Museum Wales involved in Treasure declarations? 
Curators based at Amgueddfa Cymru provide expert advice and make recommendations to Coroners on cases of reported treasure from Wales. They compare finds with the legal definition of treasure, as set out in the Treasure Act 1996 and the Treasure Act 1996: Code of Practice (3rd Revision) of 2023. We also have Portable Antiquities Scheme Finds Officers based at our museums, who work with finders, often metal-detectorists, who show their treasure and non-treasure archaeological finds, enabling them to be recorded and reported.


Why does a Coroner make the decision on Treasure cases? 
The role of Coroners in treasure cases arose from the Medieval duty of the Coroner as a protector of the property of the Crown belonging to the king or queen of the day. In Middle English, the word ‘coroner’ referred to an officer of the Crown, derived from the Latin corona, meaning ‘crown’.


What happens to ‘Treasure’? 
When treasure finds are declared treasure by Coroners, they legally become the property of the Crown. Finders and landowners are entitled to rewards, usually each receiving 50% of the independent commercial value placed on the treasure find. The Treasure Valuation Committee, an appointed group of experts representing the antiquities trade, museums and finder groups, commissions and agrees the values placed on treasure. Interested accredited museums may acquire treasure for their collections and for wider public benefit, by paying the agreed valuation sum placed on a find.  

Tokens of Love

Fflur Morse, 23 January 2024

Cow's horn with names and elaborate patterns carved into it, mostly within circles but with one heart shape.

Carved cow’s horn, 1758

Today in Wales we celebrate Santes Dwynwen, the patron saint of friendship and love.

With Valentine’s Day also on the horizon, what better time than now to explore some of the objects in our collection which were given as tokens and symbols of love. Most of us are familiar with the concept of love spoons and their significance to Wales, and you can learn more about their history and designs here.

But in this blog, I would like to focus on some of the lesser-known objects related to love in the collection, starting with the Knitting Sheath.

Knitting needle sheaths were often carved as love tokens. Sheaths were worn by knitters to hold one of their needles while they worked. This allowed them to use their free hand to manipulate the yarn. The sheath was either tucked into the knitter’s waistband or tied around their waist.

This knitting sheath is inscribed with the date 1802, with the name ‘Thomas Smith’. It was probably made as a present and love token, like several others in our collection. It is decorated with a flower, heart, and fish motif.

Black-and-white photograph of two long, thin, wooden artefacts with patterns carved onto them, placed above a ruler which shows them to be a little over 20cm long.

Top: Carved knitting needle sheath, 1802 Bottom: Carved knitting needle sheath, 1754

The example below it is of an earlier date and was made in 1754.

Like many of the lovespoons in the collection at St Fagans, both sheaths feature balls carved within a cage – this was commonly thought to represent the number of children desired by the carver.

Another popular love token was the Staybusk. This was a piece of wood which was inserted into the front of a woman’s stays to keep the torso upright. They were usually made from whalebone, wood or bone. A busk was often given to a woman as a love token from a suitor because they were positioned close to the heart. Many were carved or painted with inscriptions and motifs, such as hearts, initials and flowers.

Below is a carved wooden staybusk from Llanwrtyd, Powys. It is inscribed with the initials RM and IM.

A long, slender wooden artefact with intricate patterns carved into it, which are especially densely carved in the upper centre.

Carved wooden staybusk from Llanwrtyd

The symbol of the wheel features heavily on this staybust, and it was said that this represented a vow by the carver to work hard, and to guide a loved one through life.

Tokens such as knitting sheaths, staybusts and lovespoons were available to people of all classes. Made with affordable materials that were readily available, each token was completely unique and driven by the emotion and passion of the carver.

Carved love tokens encompassed a wide variety of styles and designs, and came in all shapes and sizes, such as this cow horn, beautifully carved in 1758 in the Aberystwyth area, as a gift by Edward Davis for his sweetheart Mary.

Cow's horn with names and elaborate patterns carved into it, mostly within circles but with one heart shape.

Carved cow’s horn, 1758

These tokens shed a unique light on the emotional experiences of the receiver, and those who loved them. They were cherished objects belonging to ordinary people, whose stories are so often hidden from history. Through the beautifully carved symbols and motifs on the love tokens, we can learn a little about their hopes and desires and gain a glimpse into their very own love stories.

Summary of an archaeology work placement, 2022-23

David Hughes (Student Work Placement), 13 November 2023

There is often some competition from people interested in archaeology to participate in Amgueddfa Cymru – Museum Wales’ student work placements, and I was delighted to secure a placement to help the museum assess and catalogue human remains. 

Joining a small group of individuals on placement, some of whom are students from Cardiff’s Archaeological Science course, we worked alongside the Curator to assess skeletons from the early medieval cemetery at Llandough, near Cardiff.  The excavations in the early 1990s produced in excess of a thousand skeletons, which have remained in Amgueddfa Cymru’s archive awaiting full examination. 

We learnt how the skeletons must be stored and handled in accordance with ethical standards for dealing with human remains.  Each skeleton is individually assessed for completeness, and sometimes it is possible to identify the sex and observe evidence of age and disease.  This information is recorded for entry into the Amgueddfa Cymru catalogue and will be useful in future research of human remains and the Llandough site, and contribute to the study of medieval archaeology more generally. 

Examining human remains provokes reflection on the lives of medieval people and, whilst it may not be for everyone, it does bring us closer to the past in a special way.  The work placement was an excellent learning experience.  The Curator, Adelle was very patient with all the questions raised by the student placements and generous in sharing her knowledge and skills.  It is a great way for Amgueddfa Cymru to engage with the public, and I am grateful for the opportunity to see behind the scenes and contribute to the work of the museum.  I hope Amgueddfa Cymru will continue to offer such opportunities for those who would like to get involved.


For more information on work placements for students, visit the 'Get Involved' pages of the website. It is possible to sign up to a mailing list to hear about any placements when they are advertised.

Jessie Knight - The Lady Tattoo Artist

Dr Bethan Jones, 1 November 2023

I was appointed an Honorary Research Fellow at Amgueddfa Cymru – Museum Wales earlier this year and I've finally made it down to see the collection I'll be working with!


I'm doing work on Jessie Knight, considered one of the UK's first female tattoo artists, and it was amazing seeing her machines, flash, art and photos. There are about 1000 items in the archive and I only looked at two boxes so I'm really excited to get stuck in and see what I can find. I'll be working with the collection for two years and am planning some community events as well as participatory research.


I got my first tattoo aged 19. A piece of flash chosen from the walls of a studio in Bath, inked on by a tattooist who I can’t remember anything about except he wore black gloves. Over twenty years later and I’ve got many more, mostly custom designs inked over multiple sessions, the latest by a woman whose mother I used to work with. Tattoos have, even since I got my first one, become more mainstream, more acceptable. And female tattoo artists are becoming more common - a far cry from the early 20th century when Jessie Knight began work.


Jessie, born in Croydon in 1904, is widely considered to be the UK’s first female tattoo artist. She began working at her father’s studio in Barry when she was 18, and after moving around the UK returned to Barry in the 1960s. After her death in 1992 her collection of photographs, artwork, tattoo machines and designs passed to her great nephew Neil Hopkin-Thomas and was acquired by Amgueddfa Cymru, with the help of art historian and tattoo academic Dr Matt Lodder, in 2023. 


But why on earth should a tattooist’s archive be acquired by a museum, or put on display? As someone who has, and researches, tattoos the collection is a fascinating piece of subcultural history. And subcultures – like punk and hip-hop – have increasingly become the subject of exhibitions at museums and galleries. Tattoos reflect the hopes, loves and identities of the people who have them – as the tattoo of the highland fling that won Jessie second place in the 1955 Champion Tattoo Artist of All England competition attests – and give us an insight into the lives of people through the ages. 


But the Knight collection also tells us about the cultural and societal norms of the time. It’s estimated that there were only five other female tattoos in the US and Europe working at the same time as Jessie. This was an incredibly tough industry for a woman and we can see some of the behaviour Jessie would have had to put up with in the signs she displayed – preserved within the collection. Her great-nephew has told stories about how Jessie’s shop was broken into and her designs taken, and how she would sit on a big trunk that held her designs while she was tattooing so no one could get to them.


The designs in the collection also tell us about the trends of the day, and while some of these are intensely problematic and need to be addressed sensitively, we can also see how Jessie moved away from the more stereotypical representation of women as sex objects to create a more realistic depiction of women. This was unusual at the time, but then Jessie herself was also unusual – and blazed a trail for female tattoo artists working today. 

A History of The Museums Branding

Niamh Rodda, 29 September 2023

If you can believe it, we keep a copy of every museum publication we produce. Yes, every flyer and brochure and after a while it starts to pile up! While in the process of ordering and categorising this mountain of coffee table litter and ephemera into a cohesive collection, it’s been fascinating to see the way that Amgueddfa Cymru’s branding has changed and evolved over the years. The logos and designs tell us not just about how the museum represents itself but also they tell us something about the time they were written in. So, let’s take a look at the museums branding and design over the decades.
In a museum brochure from 1968, the simplicity of the design is striking with its bold text and the solid red graphic of columns and pediment, which is the globally used symbol for museums (but more on that later). Yet for a modern eye it still looks old fashioned; there are no photos or even a colour gradient and it is printed onto plain white paper. The inside contains only small black text of museum department events, in a list, with little formatting. for example:
Zoology: In the Gallery near the Restaurant: Demonstration of Taxidermy of birds and mammals. 10am -12 noon

In 1969 we get a new look for monthly Programmes. This style sticks for the next decade. A bright solid colour fills the background, and the words “Amgueddfa Genedlaethol Cymru National Museum of Wales” are in a large clear bold text. The front of each issue has a large single black and white image that takes up the centre of the cover. This is however the only image the programmes contain, but maybe as a result the images picked usually look dramatic and intriguing. There is something reminiscent of album cover art about them. In the December 1969 issue the cover features a picture of a lunar landing module and the moon from space. Inside are details of a 3-day exhibition where the museum had genuine moon rock on display.

In the 1980’s we get a new look again, which we can see in the museum’s monthly programmes. But if it wasn’t for the date, you might assume it to be older than it is. The writing is in a traditional serif font and each issue has the same image a marble fresco of a woman holding a picture of the Welsh dragon with Ionic columns in the background. It is the Seal of the National Museum of Wales. It is an architectural feature of the Cardiff site that you can see today above the entrance of gallery 1. 

It is an image that is meant to invoke a certain ideal of “The Museum” that it is grand, historic, noble, and “cultured”. The monthly programmes certainly work hard to solidify this visual brand, having the large logo/seal prominent on every issue that leans into the imagery we already associate with museums. As with the earlier 1968 programme both are invoking the image of the Museum as a grand marble Greco-Romanesque styled structure. This seal is then used in slightly different forms on all publications for the next decade and a half.

The icon for museums as a row of pillars with a triangle pediment on top is widely used. It is the image you will see on brown road signs or tourist maps to mark the location of a museum and certainly the National Museum Cardiff and the Roman Legion Museum do have that classic museum look complete with towering columns. It is an image that may well reflect what museums used to be like, opulent buildings that looked at foreign artefacts like Greek statues. But it is an image that now many museums are working hard to move away from.  Ultimately as an icon it doesn’t really capture or express the totality of what Amgueddfa Cymru is all about, a diverse and varied family of museums that celebrate Welsh life.

Then in 1995 there is a major rebrand. We have moved away from the traditional imagery of museums and galleries and instead have a range of icons that highlight the different parts of the museum’s collections including a spinning wheel, anchor, and steam powered machinery to name a few. It excellently highlights the diversity of what we have to offer. The graphics almost look like a website banner with clickable icons displaying the range of choices. The publications go through various changes over the following years with a greater focus on full colour photos, and a variety of graphics and fonts. The publications are exciting and colourful, but is there a downside? Some might see this iteration of publications as overly crowded and busy. Furthermore, there is no signal unifying image for Amgueddfa Cymru as an integrated organisation.

Then in the 2000’s a new rebrand ditched the icons and opted for words. The words “National Museum Wales” and “Amugueddfa Cymu” were placed at an angle to each other in a modern sans serif font for all publications. This echoes the priorities and vision of the museum in this era. Balancing the English and Welsh language at angles so that neither takes priority over the other. It is effective straightforward and unambiguous. However the thirty three characters at 45 degree angles do not work well on a small scale and can become cluttered and difficult to read. As more and more we switched to phones as our primary reading devices there was a greater need to have a clean simple design.

Since last year we have had a brand-new redesign. The Amgueddfa Cymru logo is written in a bold capitalized font, created for the Museum it emulates the look of an industrial brand like that which you would find on metal or bricks to show the maker; it reflects the industrial past of some of our national museums.  For social media, where space is limited, we have a simple “AC” icon on a red background. Clean and simple bold texts work well for online platforms and this process of simplifying graphics has happened across many brands over the past decade as reading from phone screens has become the norm. Amgueddfa Cymru’s new design uses only the Welsh language title, further simplifying the design and highlighting the museum’s commitment to telling the story of Wales, from its earliest times, through its industrial transformation to the modern day. The font highlights the special characters that don’t exist in English, such as the “DD” which is has been linked together in “Amgueddfa” further showing our pride in the Welsh language.

Ultimately there will be pros and cons to any logo or icon. Often it is about what is right for the time, and what is best for the medium the icons will be on. Do you have a favourite?