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Monday, March 9, 2015

Antique Wax Seal Stamps { and Gorgeous Wax Seal Jewelry } PART 1.

Wax Seal Stamps

<img src="wax seal initials from Your Daily Jewels.jpeg" alt= "wax seal initials">
A collection of wax seal initials made from antique wax seal stamps in my collection, dated:1750 - 1974


Personal Wax Seal Stamps from 3500BC to Today

If I could get back the hours I have spent scouring the earth for #antiquewaxseal stamps... well, I wouldn't really want them. I love the thrill of the chase, the hunt, and especially the catch. 

<img src="wax seal Compass Pendant  from Your Daily Jewels.jpeg" alt= "wax seal Compass Pendant">
Lost at Sea Compass - Wax Sea pendant - Your Daily Jewels

To say I revere antique wax seals and other tiny tidbits of history is putting it mildly. OK, I hoard them. Not just because I can make silver wax seal jewelry using them,  but because I lose myself in the history behind them and all the stories they have to tell.

The history of the wax seal is long and romantic. They have served many purposes over centuries. They have been  used to identify a sender, authenticate documents, and to insure privacy.  Seals of one form or another were used by royalty, government officials, religious entities and military officers.

From my Personal Collection - I Have Drawers and Drawers of These!

As a pre-teen and teenager in the seventies, we were not quite as genteel as the Aristocracy.  We bought our wax seal stamps in the “head shop”  and used them  as signs of the sheer grooviness of the times.  Peace signs, zodiac signs, dragons, unicorns, the moon and stars and the like. No proper letter to a best friend at camp was sent without one... or six.

<img src="wax seal  Peace Sign necklace - Petite Peace Sign wax seal necklace  from Your Daily Jewels.jpeg" alt= "Antique wax seal Proverb pendants">
PEACE! ....dude. circa 1974

Seals have served as a stamp of indisputable authenticity throughout history, just as a signature is accepted in the world today. Seals can be traced back to the Old Testament, wherein it is written that Jezebel used Ahab’s seal to counterfeit important documents.  

(From my collection) Ancient Turquoise - Turkish Carving Used as a Wax Seal

The use of seals can be traced all the way back to the world’s first civilizations, and have been found in Mesopotamia; believed to hail from 3500BC. They were made with clay that was impressed with engraved cylinders or rings. 

In the Middle ages, when illiteracy was rife, wax seals were used to keep a letter closed, ensure it hadn’t been tampered with; and confirm it was indeed written by the supposed senderHowever, widespread use of the seal did not really take off until the post-medieval period. 

In these years, they were used in place of a signature to authenticate agreements, contracts, wills, letters or any act executed in someone’s name. 

The seal itself often bears a distinctive emblem or symbol specific to the sender. Because these seals were symbols of power and used to authenticate a person’s wishes, they were typically destroyed after the owner died to prevent posthumous forgeries. This is one reason why they are so rare today and so precious to collectors.


Several of My Beautiful Wax Seal Wheels from the Early 1800's

When utilized in an official capacity, seals were sometimes placed directly on an official document but were often attached in the “pendent style" so not to become lost. The seal was applied to a cord, ribbon, or strip of parchment and hung loose after being threaded through a hole or slot at the lower edge of the document.

 (above) When the Swiss decided they were going to war, they removed its wax seal from this Treaty for Peace that they had signed with Burgundy in 1467.  Look closely, you can see the two holes left by the absence of the Swiss seal. 

Wax Seals in Private Correspondence

 Seals were eventually used by families and individuals to seal handwritten letters.  For a great part of our history, this was the only form of correspondence available to express ones deepest feelings and thoughts. I am sure many a Victorian-Era parent intercepted and cracked the waxseal of a letter from a suitor to an anxiously awaiting  daughter.

"Am I Welcome"?  1790 Wax Seal  - from my personal collection 

Wax seals take me away. I feel like an Austen heroine or a Dickens character.   I can't help but envision a young, proper Victorian lady seated at her vanity,  opening a letter from her beau with a wax seal that reads "Am I Welcome"? hinting that he soon shall be in her area of the country, and would love to stop in and see her. The  wax seals pictured above are all from my collection. See the loops? They were often worn as necklaces, on charm bracelets or as watch-fob adornments so they were always handy.

Wax Seal "Etui" (container for double sided seals) from my collection - early 1800's

The Disappearance of the Wax Seal

 As travel, emigration, and colonization increased, wax seals were not simply applied to keep communication confidential, but as a practical necessity. Before the British and American postal reforms of the mid-19th century, sending a letter was quite expensive; it cost 25 cents in the US to send a letter over 450 miles – quite a lot in those days.

Furthermore, postage was based on distance and number of sheets
An envelope would have counted as an additional sheet – and was considered a frivolous luxury

 Letters were written on a folio of paper (a double-wide piece of paper folded down the center). The contents of the letter were written on the front side (recto) of the first leaf.

Three Antique Wax Seals from my collection, primarily used to create Sterling Wax Seal Jewelry

The second leaf of the folio wrapped around the first leaf, forming a protective enclosure, which could then be sealed with sealing wax and addressed to the recipient, thereby avoiding additional expense of an envelope.

The use of wax seals largely disappeared long before the popularity of handwritten correspondence did. The disappearance  corresponds with the invention of the sticky envelope in the latter half of the 19th Century, when automatic envelope folding machines, and more importantly, pre-gummed envelopes were developed.

After postal reforms, the use of the wax seal slowly diminished.  The cost of postage was significantly reduced and reforms changed its basis from the number of sheets, to overall weight. Waxseals only added more weight, and thus, added more cost.  Letter writing became much more accessible to the masses and the sheer volume of letters being mailed increased fivefold, but sadly, not the use of the faithful wax seal. 

The Wax Seal Meets Sterling Silver:

<<Check back for my next installment wherein I will be covering the making of wax seal jewelry from these historic relics >>

Your Daily Jewels has the largest collection of Wax Seal Stamp Initials and Monograms on Etsy

<img src="wax seal necklaces - Four Leaf Clover Pendant from Your Daily Jewels.jpeg" alt= "Antique wax seal Four Leaf Clover Necklace">
Erin Go Bragh! Four Leaf Clover Wax Seal Necklace ~ From Your Daily Jewels

Custom, contemporary, reversible Family Coat of Arms from Your Daily Jewels:

<img src="wax seal jewelry -Phoenix Rising Pendant -  from Your Daily Jewels.jpeg" alt= "Antique wax seal Phoenix Rising Modern Family Crest Jewelry">
Modern Wax Seal Jewelry with an Olde Soul

Thank you for visiting and reading!

<<< And, If you’re interested in creating wax seals as in days of olde, check back for Part 3 when I will post a photo tutorial how to create a wax seal >>>

  More Sources on the topic:
1.  The University of Notre Dame has a large website showing Medieval Seals from their collection  of facsimiles of the originals. 
2.   Durham University Library displays a collection of Medieval Seals                        3.   The History Box web site, presented by a former head of seal  conservation at the National Archives, displays a range of seal facsimiles.
If you prefer a book, try:

1.  A Guide to British Medieval Seals London: British Library and Public Record Office. A number of black and white drawings of seals in this section have been derived from Bloom, J.H. 1906 
2.   English Seals London: Methuen and Boutell, C. 1899 English Heraldry London: Gibbings and Co.

The complete catalogues of seals in the British Library, or the British Museum as it was when these antique tomes were produced, can be found on the Internet Archive.

For a slightly different perspective, The Weekend Wanderers Metal Detecting Club shows an assortment of seal dies and matrixes that people have lost in the fields of old England over the centuries.

The Portable Antiquities Scheme records small archaeological finds, which include numbers of medieval seal dies and matrices.

If you are interested in the heraldic aspect (like me,) or want a seal identified, try the College of Arms or The Heraldry Society.