Beginner's Guide to Wax Seals: History Of Wax Seals

Beginner's Guide to Wax Seals: History of Wax Seals

 

Although today the wax seal is commonly used to enclose paper documents, its origins date back to before the invention of pen or paper. Its first use, in Mesopotamia, came in the form of a cylinder seal used to authenticate written tablets by leaving its impression in the clay.

Only in the advent of paper stationery did wax seals become integral to the signing of official documents and the sending and receiving of letters. Each seal would bear its owner's unique design, such as a coat of arms or an emblem, and would have carried the same authority as a written signature has today. Even relatively insignificant documents were stamped with a seal as a simple way of identifying the sender.

Towards the end of the medieval period, wax seals became more popular in private correpondence. Their practicality was even greater when information had to remain confidential: an unbroken wax seal enclosing a letter meant that it had been successfully delivered, whereas a broken one indicated the message had been tampered with along the way.

When, in the mid-19th Century, the cost of postage began to incorporate the number of sheets of paper being sent rather than merely the package's weight, sending letters became very expensive. Suddenly, using a wax stamp to seal the paper closed became a cheaper option than using an envelope, and the 'old-fashioned' wax-sealed letters we still emulate today were born!

Sadly, the manufacture of pre-gummed envelopes and postal reforms led wax sealing into a steady decline during the 20th Century. However, as more and more business correspondence takes place electronically this millennium, the hand-written letter is unexpectedly reclaiming its place as a more intimate way of communicating with loved ones. And, to this day, there's still no more beautiful or uncomplicated way to seal a personal letter to someone important than with your own wax seal.

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We love wax seals so much that we have an entire pinterest board dedicated to them, which can be found here.