Sept. 11, 2022

R4 Wax Seals Primer Re-issue

R4 Wax Seals Primer Re-issue

This episode is the wax seals primer.  

Intaglio seals are cut into the surface of the matrix.  Intaglio seals are most commonly used for wax seals and create a design in raised relief in the wax. 

Relief seals have designs that are above the surface of the matrix.  Relief seals are commonly set behind a piece of paper for embossing that also creates a raised relief design.  If a relief seal is used in wax it creates an impressed design more like a mold.  

Catherine Craft Supply

Dexter Rings

Regnas Rings


My personal favorite method is to use wax beads in a wax furnace to heat the spoon with the wax in it and the spoon gives you more control over how the wax is applied to the letter.  Melting wax beads in a spoon also gives you the ability to mix wax colors to add to the character of the seal.

Wax furnace

Non-machinable postage 

And a few links from the Wax Seals Revisited Episode

J.Herbin Wax seal ink pads

Global Solutions Metallic White Shimmer Stamp Pad

Stick wax

Glue gun wax - especially clear wax

Wax beads


R4 Wax Seals Primer Re-issue

Evan: [00:00:00] Welcome to stationary orbit we're off this week, doing maintenance to our, , space station. And research on everything in the stationery sphere of influence. We're gonna be back in a few weeks with a new episode, but for now, enjoy this classic episode. 

John: Today's episode is the wax seals primer. Wax seals are one of my favorite things about creative letter writing. They have a very long history. A signet ring was even mentioned in the Bible in Genesis with the story of Joseph and Pharoh they were a sign of power and authority.

They were used to ensure the authenticity of documents. The word seal can have many meanings. It can be the metal or stone carving that is used to imprint the seal. It can be a design that is stamped or embossed onto a surface, or can be the physical indicator that shows damage. If the object is opened for my part, I will be mainly talking about the wax seals that are used to seal letter.

I will start with the various instruments that are used to make the imprint. And then the waxes that are used to seal the object. I will be saving stamps for [00:01:00] the mail art primer. That will also include the Eastern tradition of seals, which are mainly ink stamps. Colloquially called chops seals were used by royalty and church officials.

In the end, the seals were used by businessmen, municipalities and petty Knight. Great effort was put into keeping seals secure and destroying them when the person they represented died or was displaced. A modern example is the ring of the fisherman, which is the popes ring and destroying or defacing. It is one of the first things done after the death of a Pope today's seals are still used, although rarely in the way they used to be.

Even the Pope signet ring stopped being used to seal official documents in 1842, seals came to be used on legal instruments, applied directly to the face of the document. So that there was no need to break them. And this use continues. Most governments have seals, but they are mostly used as embossed seals for official documents, not for sealing a document closed professionals, such as the engineers can use personal seals to certify work that they [00:02:00] performed or directly supervised.

Again, the seals have become something other than a means of secrecy and security and the seals have become embossing stamps or rubber stamps applied directly to the face of the document that identifies the professional, signing the document. Notaries also use seals to verify the signature of the notary and the person signing the document.

Wax sealing instruments fall into two categories, desk seals and signet rings. Seal surfaces are often referred to as a matrix. The seals can be carved or cast in one of two varieties Intaglio seals are cut into the surface of the matrix. Intaglio seals are most commonly used for wax seals and created design and raised relief in the wax.

Relief seals have a design that are above the surface of the matrix relief seals are commonly set behind a piece of paper for embossing that creates a raised relief design. If a relief seal is used in wax, it creates an impression design, more like a mold desk seals are [00:03:00] now likely to be a metal matrix and have a wooden handle that screw into the matrix.

It is common for desk seals to be made of brass. Older styles were solid pieces of metal with animals or other designs for the handles. One of my favorite suppliers for wax seals is Catherine Craft supply on Etsy. And I'll include a link to her shop on Etsy in the show notes. Signet rings are much scarce now, but they were the true symbols of power for much of history.

The word signet ring comes from the Latin word Sigilium, which means seal. The rings commonly have a flat stone in the bezzle of the ring that is carved intaglio common stones used for signet rings include Onyx sardonyx Cornelian, lapis lazuli and Bloodstone. And going back to Etsy, I'm going to include links to two different stores on Etsy that sell signet rings, signet rings and seals used to be part of the Heraldry used by royalty and the clergy.[00:04:00] 

But now most of the designs are decorative instead of as symbols of status. Sigilooraphy is the study of artistic design and production of seals, both the matrices and the impressions. It investigates the legal administrative and social contexts in which they were used and has a link to diplomacy heraldry social history and the history of art.

Now onto sealing wax, it was used to determine if a letter had been tampered with or opened in the middle ages. sealing wax was typically made of bees, wax and Venice Turpentine. A greenish yellow resonance extract of the larch tree. After the 16th century sealing wax was compounded of various proportions of Shelac turpentine resin, chalk, or plaster and coloring matter, but not necessarily bees wax.

The coloring matter was often Vermilion, which is made from the mineral cinnabar. Why is sealing letters such a big deal in an age before passwords and two factor authentication. Security was still a [00:05:00] concern. Black chambers were part of most postmasters offices in Europe. Their job was to identify mail from people of interest to the state, open the letters, copy them and reseal them so that they could be sent on to the recipient with hopefully no sign that that letter had been tampered with in order to defeat those black chambers, several methods were used to make the letters not stand out or be difficult to open without sign of tampering or useless, even if they were.

False letters would be addressed in a way that would not attract attention and would have an inner envelope that would be addressed to the final recipient. A method called letter locking uses various folding cutting and sealing techniques in order to make the letters very hard to open without showing evidence of tampering.

If you haven't heard of the term letter locking don't feel bad because that was not a term until 2009 when it was coined by Jana Dambrogio a conservator at MIT libraries. The [00:06:00] last technique used against the black chambers were ciphers much like modern cryptography. A letter would be written in code and would have to be deciphered using a cipher key by the recipient.

Modern sealing wax is synthetically colored and is made to be more flexible for mailing. It can be in the form of sticks, beads, or even glue gun sticks. In any case, the wax is melted and applied to the sealing surface and the seal matrix is applied to the hot wax to form the seal impression. My favorite method is to use a wax furnace to heat the spoon with wax beads in it.

The heated wax is then applied to the letter and the spoon gives you more control as to how that wax is applied. I'm including a link in the show notes to a wax furnace that I found on Etsy melting wax in a spoon also gives you the ability to mix wax colors, which adds to the character of the seal. I know that newer waxes are made to be flexible, but the postal sorting machines tend to just smear off sealing wax, no matter what you try to do the best way I've found to get [00:07:00] a wax seal through the mail.

Is to use slightly more expensive, non machinable, postage, and mark the envelopes as non machinable, the non machinable postage is about 15 cents, more than normal postage with a forever stamp hand, sorted mail is not normal for post offices and even well marked and properly. Postage letters will get put through the sorting machines once in a while.

I can only hope that it, when that happens, it fouls the machine and somebody gets to spend some quality time digging my, seal out of the machine and having that time to consider what they have done. And that does it for the wax seals primer. Please join me next time for the mail art primer. It's gonna be a great ride.