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  • Writer's pictureFlea Market Love Letters

Waxing on about Wax Seals.

Recently the archive was gifted 3 'antique' -- yes, we're rolling out 'antique' in lieu of vintage here -- letters dating from the 1800s. And yes, they are just as beautiful as you'd imagine! How lucky are we? The 3 letters are English and were acquired in Co. Sligo, Ireland.


Each is beautiful in it's own way but there's one very special feature that we have to highlight...an intact, period authentic wax seal!



What are Wax Seals?

The earliest wax seals date back to Roman times. Originally, they were used in lieu of signatures, with each impression or design being unique to the holder or wearer. Wax seals ensured that a letter or document had been delivered from the writer to the recipient without tampering. They then evolved to seal letters made from folded pages. In postal history the price of letters was dictated by the weight of the letter so wax sealing became popular to economize for the the elimination of an envelopes weight. At a time, there was even a language in the color and type of seal used to close letters. By the 20th century, wax seals declined in popularity thanks to pre-gummed envelopes.


This is the first time in our collecting that we've come across an intact seal -- beautifully still so intact you can see even the impression of the design itself. This letter and its 2 friends join our oldest letters in the archive, pre-stamp 'franked' letters dating from the 1800s. We have evidence in that collection of wax seals but unfortunately they have been long lost to time.




Using Wax Seals.

As regular readers of the archive will remember, we collect letter writing accouterments and treasures we find on our adventures -- like stamp boxes -- and 19th Century antique wax melting contraptions.



This piece was purchased at an antiques market in Co. Dublin, Ireland. We'd have never guessed it's intention lest the dealers hadn't imagined it's original purpose and left a helpful wax stick for display!

In order to use this tiny bunsen burner under the spoons head would be lit and wax shavings carved from the wax stick stored in the conveniently attached trough. When an adequate temperature was reached the letter writer lifted the spoon and poured a small amount, pooling where it was intended and retrieved the seal itself from the adjacent mounted rest and sealed their letter.


We're delighted to have this example of letter writing evolution and innovation in the collection. It's always a pleasure to find pieces in the wild that help build the story and underline the importance of seemingly small but consequential things!


Wax Seals Today.

Now, wax seals are an art form all their own. You can still find wax seals in most stationery shops among the gorgeous pens and creamy papers. This display of wax seal variety colors and types comes from 'Choosing Keeping' in London.



Which would you choose? Spoiled for choice, really! Want to visit Choosing Keeping with us? Check out this video we shot there in December 2023!



During the PENPALOOZA letter writing resurgence movement of 2020-2021, wax seals were rare but always a treat when they landed in the letterbox. There's something about the ancient art that is beautifully imperfectly invested with meaning for the diehard letter lover. Long live the wax seal!




Write to Us.

If you are drawn to using wax seals, we'd love to hear from you! Send us an email at info@fleamarketloveletters.com

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