In praise of wax seals

People love the wax stamp “trick.” Perhaps it’s the fire. At book signings this year I have sometimes whipped out my personal wax seal and, with the aid of a match and a stick of coloured beewax/resin, added a stamp to the personalization process. It’s been a big hit, but it surprises me how many people have never seen one before. To me, it’s a Goth correspondence staple.

I got my first wax seal almost 20 years ago: the letter L, made of brass. I used it the same way kings and popes and layfolk have done for centuries: to seal letters. It’s not a necessary tactic today for secrecy of course, what with private mail and lickable glues. But it’s pretty. It adds a touch of magic, of surprise. And Goth Points. Sadly, it’s become more and more difficult over the years to buy the sealing wax here in Toronto. Suppliers of art supplies and fancy stationary now carry only wedding-themed kits, or have stopped stocking it altogether. A sign of the times, I suppose, as actual letter writing has become archaic, a “lost art” in need of reviving at social clubs (I’m guessing by the kind of hipsters who got tired of knitting classes), or so I keep reading about in the lifestyle pages of newspapers.¬† I know that in much of East Asia, personal or family seals are still in use. And of course, they occasionally authenticate legal documents and such. But it seems the wax seal is now mostly medieval relic.

But I want to bring it back! There is a simple pleasure to be had in personalizing correspondence, I feel. Long ago now, the Canadian singer Jane Siberry once told me that to carefully address a letter, or piece of mail, was a true expression of love. Agree. First impressions and all that. It’s why I spend the money to buy real ribbon for wrapping gifts, rather than use the plastic stuff. I also like to give people more than they expect, and I can assure you that sending a card with your initial, or other symbol representative of your personality, stamped onto the envelope, will delight your recipient. And should they inquire about it, you may wish to toss out some of these tidbits I’ve gleaned from wiki and such:

The study of seals is known as sigillography.

When the pope dies it is the first duty of the Cardinal to obtain possession of the papal signet, and to see that it is broken up.

The bodies of dead French queens  have been found buried with their seals.

In the olde tymes, black wax was made partially from Lampblack, soot collected from oil lamps. White ones contained lead.

Sadly, should you decide to follow my lead on this, unless you live in Paris surrounded by fancy papeteries, you will likely need to order your wax and stamps from the internet. I do recommend Nostalgic Impressions for wide selection of quality products, including the fun Skull & Crossbones kit I’ve been using.

Happy letter writing. Or sad letter writing, as you wish. Signed….

5 Comments

  1. Wulf January 2, 2012 Reply

    I loved the black wax skull seal you added to the book you signed for me. It’s a lovely, unique touch. Have you thought of using a thin piece of metal (perhaps beautifully engraved silver?) beneath the page you’re sealing to prevent the wax from seeping through and sticking to the next page? It might make it cool a bit faster too.

    You’re right about sealing wax getting hard to find, but here’s a secret source: The old Post Office at 260 Adelaide St. sells huge sticks of red sealing wax big enough to club a baby seal with. (Ouch! Pun not intended.) A good buy, and visitors in Victorian dress are always welcome.

    • Liisa January 4, 2012 Reply

      Two excellent ideas, Wulf. Thank you.

  2. lidia January 18, 2012 Reply

    Enter your comments here…

    the paper place on queen street west sells sealing wax in a variety of colours so does midico at bloor and bathurst.

    • Liisa February 2, 2012 Reply

      Thanks Lidia. I went into the Japanese Paper Place on Queen and, behold, they have many waxes (although no red on my visit.) I used to buy at Midico but haven’t found any there for a while.

      So much love for the wax sealing!

  3. Anastasia January 31, 2012 Reply

    I was recently thinking of how the art of letter writing has been lost. Specifically of writing to a pen pal. I found some letters I exchanged in high school and found myself longing for somebody to write to again. You have inspired me to go searching for (or order) a wax sealing kit as I always did want one.

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