ABOUT SEALS

City of Regensburg, Germany in the year 1460The word “seal” has two definitions within this context. The die or original sealing instrument with the negative image is also referred to as the “matrix”. The “impression” is the positive image made from a pliable material such as wax or resin.

The original seal matrices were usually made of metal, (steel, bronze, lead, gold, silver etc.) ivory or stone. Very few of the metal matrices survive since they were generally destroyed or defaced for legal purposes when the owner of the seal died or forfeited his/her position. The impressions were made from malleable materials such as beeswax, resins, or mixtures of the two, clay, or even soft metals. Lead and gold seals are generally referred to as bullas, derived from the Latin word plumbum (lead). This impression is what accompanied documents, charters or other forms of correspondence throughout the ages. When we refer to seals on this site we are referring to the impression as it was on the document.

In the middle Ages the sealing material was initially pure beeswax, ranging in color from white to yellow to brown. In the 11th century, pigments were added such as red, green, yellow or black. They also began experimenting with adding various resins in order to make the wax harder and the image appear sharper. Unfortunately, this resulted in rendering the seal impression more brittle. The composition of the sealing wax changed over the centuries and from country to country. For example, in 19th century England the material for royal seals was almost pure shellac. The color often varied depending on the destination and type of document.

The sizes of seals varied also. The general tendency for seals of royalty or nobility was a steady increase in dimension throughout the centuries. Our smallest seal is that of Siegbert III of the year 638 and is approximately 1 cm (3/8”) diameter. Our largest is the seal of the Russian Czar Alexander II of the year 1856 and measures 26 cm (over 10”). City seals, at least in Germany however, took a different direction. The city of Trier of the year 1172 is 13cm (over 5 “) in diameter. Most seals of the 13th and 14th centuries are approximately 9 cm (3 ½”) in diameter. City seals in the following centuries saw further reductions in size. Later came paper seals, and finally they were replaced with rubber stamps.

Contrary to popular belief, very few seals were attached directly to the document they served. The majority hung from cords or parchment strips attached to the bottom edge of the document. Most royal seals, especially English and French seals in the 11th century and beyond, were two sided. Frequently, seals came in protective enclosures (skippets) of wood or metal, or had protective pouches around them made of fabric or leather.

First seal of the city of Dublin [1297] obverse & reverse $20 each

OUR REPRODUCTIONS

Karl V, Holy Roman Empire

Some European archives have enormous seal collections. For example the National Archive in Paris boasts of having two and a half million seals. Other archives have comparable collections. Our collection is very modest comparatively and consists of nearly 4500 originals and over 4000 copies. We are the only seal reproduction business in North America.

Our reproductions are cast using our own collection of originals (from documents etc.) as well as museum archive copies. These are all in various state of repair and very seldom in mint condition. To retain the flavor of history, we reproduce the imperfections of the originals. The attraction of this type of reproduction is that the impression is exact. Note that we have even captured visible finger prints from a number of the originals.

We use colors that are authentic to the times and consider optimum appearance and readability. The most appealing and hence popular color is an antiqued dark ivory with highlighted contrast for clear visibility. Certain seals however, look better in red, green or brown. For museums and historians who are interested in a genuine color of a particular seal, we will provide absolutely authenticity.

Please don’t hesitate contact us with specific questions.

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