The lost art of wax sealing

By Angus Forrester

The art of sealing is an ancient practice that can be traced back to our earliest civilisations. A means of communication, identification and authentication–the use of seals has transcended cultures and evolved over the course of history, from it’s most primitive clay tablet form observed circa 3100BC, to the signet rings of ancient Egypt and to the beautifully, hand-crafted wooden handled stamps of today.

The introduction of wax to the process is believed to have been adopted in the 11th Century, popularised by Edward the Confessor whose double-sided wax seals caught the imagination of fellow nobility and ruling classes. As you could expect, their usage throughout this period was reserved mainly for official purposes, such as issuing decrees or state correspondence. As opposed to sealing an envelope such as we know it now, these seals were more akin to a signature–a means of authenticating a document–the Papal Bull is prime example of a well-known seal of validation used by the Pope for issuing decrees around this time.

With illiteracy a widespread problem during the Middle Ages, wax seals were a crafty solution that allowed for universal identification conveyed through simply initials or emblems of the sender.

During the 13th Century, however, wax seals reached their zenith with the practice becoming more accessible to common folk and smaller institutions like guilds and monasteries.The imprint of a seal is known as a matrix. Most often, these seal matrixes came in the form of a signet ring, which would have been unique to their wearer and quite dramatically destroyed upon the owner’s passing. This is also, perhaps unsurprisingly, the very reason why so few seals have been recorded through history.

It wasn’t until roughly the 15th century when travel and exploration became more rife and Empires turned their gaze towards the colonisation of distant lands, did wax seals become more widely used for the purpose of sealing letters, and later envelopes, as a means of ensuring the contents against tampering. Due to the cost of paper, it was cheaper to simply fold a letter and seal with wax ready for sending and safe from prying eyes. The wide adoption of envelopes did not appear until the 19th Century when the technology to produce them at a scale to make them affordable for the masses was created. At some point during the transition into the 20th Century, wax seals fell from favor–displaced by adhesive emblems and with illiteracy no longer a widespread issue, they were no longer deemed necessary.

The practice has been kept alive quietly by a small minority of nostalgics and romanticists, including ourselves, where in an age where communication is largely conducted digitally, a handwritten correspondence feels like a luxury–both to send and receive. The presence of a wax seal is a dramatic addition to any letter, it is a small celebration of tradition and heritage.

With our bespoke stamp kits, you can personalise your very own seal to mark your correspondence with a unique flourish. Choose from three different hand-illustrated designs and designate your chosen initials to live within.

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