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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Wax Seals: A History and How-To

A History of  Wax Seals

wax seal stamped initials
My personal collection of wax seal stamped initials from 1750 - 1972


Personal Wax Seal Stamps from 3500BC to Today

If I could get back the hours I have spent scouring the earth for antique wax seal stamps I could have another college degree.  I love and hoard wax seals. Not just because I make silver wax seal jewelry, but because of the history behind them and all the stories they must have to tell.

The use of wax seals largely disappeared long before the popularity of handwritten correspondence did. The disappearance most likely 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.

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 Royals.  We bought our wax seal stamps in the “head shop”  and used them for sheer grooviness. Peace signs, zodiac signs, dragons, moon and stars and the like. But no letter to a friend at camp was sent without one... or six.

I still find them so appealing that I have begun adding them to my few and far between written correspondence.  They add an element of distinction (and, perhaps for me, give subtle subliminal promotion of my wax seal jewelry business.)  

wax seal jewelry
Shameless Plug for my Aforementioned Wax Seal Jewelry at Your Daily Jewels
A Seal Emblem from Notre Dame de Paris, 1780, Can you see the "N" and "D"?

If you’ve ever been curious about wax seals, I will cover their history here, and my post  next week will be a photo tutorial on how to make them yourself.

A Little History of Wax Seals

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

Ancient Turquoise Carving Used as a Wax Seal

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


Each stamped seal is unique. It allows the reader to instantly know whether a document has been tampered with.  Some might say this was the wax seal’s original function.  However,  in a time when many were illiterate, they were used in place of a signature to authenticate agreements, contracts, wills, letters which conferred rights or privileges – 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.


My Wax Seal Wheels from the Early 1800's

The use of wax seals  gradually spread to aristocrats, monasteries and guilds (for example, butchers would sign agreements with a seal bearing the image of a hog or cow), and eventually to ordinary freemen by the 13th century.

Romano-British Gold Signet Ring Wax Seal Stamp, 4th C. AD.  A cross on a circular bezel, within a dotted border. A very rare Roman, Christian ring during the occupation of Britain by the Romans.

Utilized in this official capacity, seals were sometimes placed directly on an official document but were most 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 wanted to go to war with Charles, Berne 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 used  to seal handwritten letters which were the only form of correspondence available to express one's deepest true feelings and thoughts for a great part of our history. I am sure many a Victorian-Era parent cracked the seal of a letter from a suitor to an anxiously awaiting  daughter.

"Am I Welcome"  Wax Seal, 1790

Wax seals take me away. I can't help but envision  a young 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 other wax seals are  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.

In the Middle ages, using a wax seal to keep a letter closed, ensure it hadn’t been tampered with, and confirm it was indeed written by the supposed sender was a  practice used in this period,  but the widespread use of the seal did not really take off until the post-medieval period.

 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 – doubling the cost – so letter writers used  a single folded piece of paper and then sealed it shut with wax to avoid the extra expense. Envelopes were considered a frivolous luxury.

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

During the Industrial Revolution a burgeoning pre-gummed envelope industry emerged. The use of the wax seal slowly diminished after postal reforms significantly reduced the cost of postage and changed its basis from the number of sheets to overall weight.  The seals only added more weight, and thus, more cost to mailing.

 Letter writing became much more accessible to the masses and the volume of letters mailed increased fivefold, but not the use of the faithful wax seal.

If you’re interested in creating wax seals as in days of olde, check back next week for part 2 when I will post a photo tutorial how to create a wax seal.

Thank you for visiting and reading!

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. You can buy one if you like. 
4Archim, the website of the French National Archives, has an exhibition of Seals from Burgundy.

If you prefer a book, try:

1Tommochy, A.B. 1952 Catalogue of British Seal-Dies in the British Museum London: British Museum or Harvey, P.D.A. and McGuinness, A. 1996
2.  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 
3.   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 careless 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 (as I am,) or want a seal identified, try the College of Arms or The Heraldry Society.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Who's Your Daddy? Celebrating 7 Typical Types of Dads

Who's Your Daddy - Is He Here?

Fathers Day Gift Idea: Recycled Sterling Anchor Pendant by Your Daily Jewels
Your Dad - The Anchor of Your Family

F A T H E R S   D A Y 

is around the corner, (June 15 - for those wondering which corner.)  

 It's time to celebrate the man who brought you into this world, and all his lovable eccentricities. My dad wore black socks with sandals at the beach and this is a true story. He did not know how to dress casually. If he wasn't in a suit he looked like he may have been dumpster diving. 

1. He was a "Type A" dad, but, back in the seventies, this kind of dad was a lot different than today's Type-A dad.

Similarities: workaholic, white collar, successful, driven.  They are "doing it all for the family-dads", (although they were not around much.)

Differences between then and now: Type-A in the Seventies: 4 martini lunches; 
Today: 4 Triathlons a year.

Sterling Wax Seal Monogram Key Chain - Father's Day Gift for the Guy Who Has Everything

2. "Hip-Pop or Pal-dad: He's "down" with your friends and wants to hang with you any chance he gets. Your friends love him and you do your best to make him feel included by sharing "just enough" information. He lives for his family.

Sterling  Realistic Wolf's Claw Pendant for Dad!

3. The "Older" Dad: All of your friends had cool young dads who wore blue jeans on the weekends.  This dad has never owned blue jeans. "Traditional" barely begins to describe this solid, wise, family man

Your Father Has Always Kept You on Course

4. The "Glory Days" Dad: He wears his original Grateful Dead tee-shirt any chance he gets and blasts the classic rock station while mowing the lawn. To your horror, you have seen him playing air guitar when he thought no one was looking.  He's more than happy to recount again and again, stories of his mis-spent youth. He keeps a close eye on his kids because he knows what he was up to at their age. He would do anything for his family.

Can't Loose Fathers day Gift 3mm Sterling Ball Chain from Your Daily Jewels on Etsy
The "Perfect" Mens Chain - Sterling 3mm Oxidized Ball Chain 

5. Hard-ass Dad:  Maybe he’s a cop or ex-military, but you grew up knowing  the boundaries  (and how to sneak around them). Your friends are still scared of him even though you are all in your thirties now. You know that deep down he is a softy, who would probably kill or at least maim for his family.

fathers day gift idea Handmade sterling Eagle pendant
Over-sized - 9-11 Never Forget Pendant - Father's Day Gift Idea

6. “The Renaissance Dad.”  This Father is all about family togetherness, and makes a point of being home for dinner every night.  When not with their families, he is  usually out jogging. Weekends and vacations are spent as a family;  camping, church activities, volunteering, or just being together somehow. 

Moving away and having your own family is no excuse for not being all together on the holidays. This dad's motto is "family first, forever".

eco-friendly sterling hand carved arrowhead mens pendant - your daily jewels on etsy.com
Hand-carved Eco-friendly Arrowhead Men's Pendant

7. The Bad-dad: This guy has to be mentioned. Even if you never met your dad, or if he hurt and/or abandoned you long ago, you feel his presence on Father's Day. If you bum-out every Father's Day, this year, try being thankful for him and letting go of some of your anger. Someone once said to me,

 "Holding onto anger is like taking poison and hoping the other guy suffers"   

It is pointless and hurtful only to you.

Without him, you would not be here, and who you are,  and that is worth celebrating.

The Combo-Dad: No dad can fit perfectly into any of these categories, and I could come up with a lot more dad-stereotypes. Your dad probably has some characteristics of several of these dads, but one common thread runs through all the dads discussed here. They are all about their love for their family. That's worth celebrating on Father's Day. 

Thanks for visiting and reading!


Men's Heraldic Shield Pendant  - Your Daily Jewels on Etsy

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Here's the Skinny Behind 11 Common Wedding Rituals

and they lived happily ever after sign, kerriart, etsy.com
KerriArt on Etsy

Its wedding season, here in the US, and as a handmade jeweler, I have been busy making lots of bridal necklaces and bridesmaids gifts. This is my favorite story I have to share:  A lovely bride-customer of mine is getting married in her favorite whale-watching seaside town and ordered eight of my petite whale's tail pendants!

whales tail your daily jewels on etsy
Handmade Recycled Sterling Whale's Tail Necklace


Rituals we take for granted are deeply rooted in centuries-old tradition

1. Something Old, New, Borrowed, and Blue

Everyone knows this common rhyme used when someone gets married, but what is the meaning behind it?
Wearing "something old" symbolizes continuity with the bride's past, and  "something new" symbolizes the couple's happy future. The bride is supposed to "borrow" something from a  happily married woman in hopes that some of that person's good fortune-mojo rubs off on her; and "Something blue" denotes fidelity and love.

Well, that was easy, but what about some of the other wedding traditions and/or superstitions that have become solidly engrained in the special day?

2. Wearing a Veil

Ancient Greeks and Roman brides would wear a veil down the aisle to disguise themselves from the evil spirits who were jealous of their happiness.

3. Not Seeing Each Other Before The Wedding

This superstition dates back to the time of arranged marriages, when people believed that if the couple saw each other before the ceremony, it would give them a chance to run for the hills before their life long commitment began. 

Today, we have generalized this to the potential onset of your basic  "bad luck" if this meeting were to occur.

4. Aquamarine represents marital harmony and is said to ensure a long, happy marriage.

aquamarine harmony wedding necklace Yourdailyjewels.etsy.com
Earthy Aquamarine Bridal Harmony Necklace

5. Rain on Your Wedding Day

In some cultures, rain on your wedding day means good luck; in others, it symbolizes fertility and cleansing. 
I think for most today, it means lousy photos.

6. Spiders are good luck?  Find a spider inside your wedding gown before you walk down the aisle? eeeww.  According to English legend, the creepy crawler is actually a " good luck omen." I'll take my chances, thank you.

7. Your choice of flowers (ignore shameless plug  for my upcoming post the "Language of Flowers") Of course, roses symbolize love, but you may want to stop pining for peonies for your wedding bouquet: Apparently, they represent shame. But they smell so good.

8. Carrying the Bride Over the Threshold

This superstition began in Medieval times when many believed that a bride was extra vulnerable to evil spirits who entered through the soles of her feet. To avoid bringing in any evil spirits, the groom carried the bride into their new home. Women in India solve this problem by covering their hands and feet with elaborate Henna tattoos on their special day.

9. Using Your Married Name Before the Wedding

Some think it is tempting fate for the bride to write out her married name or monogram before she's actually married, and that the wedding will not occur if she does. If you're superstitious, hold off on your monogramming for your reception and registry items.

waxsealjewelrysource.etsy.com  Silver monogram pendants
Antique Letterpress and Wax Seal Silver Monogram Pendants

10. Breaking Glass

In Italy, many newlyweds smash a vase or glass at their wedding, and they put a lot of muscle into it, too. The tradition says that however many pieces the glass breaks into will symbolize how many years they'll be happily married.

11. Crying on Your Wedding Day

It is supposed to be good luck for the bride to cry on her wedding day because it symbolizes that she has shed all her tears and will not have any to shed during her marriage. So go ahead let it rip, (a little) just be sure to wear waterproof mascara. And remember, you don't want blubbery red eyes in your photos!

One extra tidbit:
I love this, the Catholic tradition of "posting the banns" to announce a marriage originated as a way to ensure the bride and groom were not related. Wow, bring on the peonies!

Thank you for visiting!

All jewelry:

wax seal jewelry, red rose bracelet yourdailyjewels.com
Antique Wax Seal Rose Bridal Bracelet, circa 1842