Wax Seals: A History and How-To

by Brett & Kate McKay on February 13, 2013 · 54 comments

in Hobbies, Manly Knowledge, Travel & Leisure

sealheader

The use of wax seals largely disappeared along with the popularity of handwritten correspondence. But judging by the surprising number of sealed envelopes I receive from AoM readers, the practice has certainly not died out completely among those who still practice the art of letter writing. The appeal? They add an element of distinction to your correspondence, and, perhaps just as importantly, give you a chance to play with fire! If you’ve ever been curious about wax seals, today we’ll cover everything on the subject from their history to how to make them yourself.

The History of Wax Seals

The use of seals can be traced all the way back to the world’s first civilizations, and have been found from Mesopotamia to the Indus Valley. These first seals were made with clay that was impressed with engraved cylinders or rings.

 

The use of wax seals, however, did not begin until the Middle Ages. At first they were the exclusive purview of monarchs, bishops, and royal courts for use in issuing official decrees and authenticating documents. The use of wax seals then gradually became more democratized, spreading from aristocrats, to monasteries and guilds (for example, butchers would sign agreements with a seal bearing the image of a hog or cow), and eventually to ordinary freemen by the 13th century. Each individual had their own seal, and in a time when many were illiterate, they were used in place of a signature to authenticate agreements, contracts, wills, letters which conferred rights or privileges – any act executed in someone’s name.

Utilized in this official capacity, seals were sometimes placed directly on the document but were most often attached in the “pendent style.” The seal was applied to a cord, ribbon, or strip of parchment and hung loose after being threaded through a hole or slot at the lower edge of the document.

pendent

Seals hung in the pendent style from a charter of privileges for the town of Wrocław (Silesia), granted by Duke Henry III in 1261.

The wax itself was made with 2/3 beeswax and 1/3 resin, a ratio that shifted almost entirely to the latter in the post-medieval period. The Pope would seal his documents with a bulla – a lump of lead, which eventually gave these documents their name – papal bulls.

Red (colored with the mineral cinnabar) and black (made with the soot from burning pure resin) were the most common colors, but a variety of hues existed from gold (yellow mica) to blue (powdered cobalt glass). Some royal courts used different colors to distinguish various administrative functions.

ring2

The wax was pressed with a handheld seal or with a signet ring. The latter, which can be traced all the way back to ancient Egypt, was a symbol of authority and power and used by the higher ups both in the aristocracy and the Church. Thus the signet ring of a dignitary was frequently kissed by a diplomat or visitor as a sign of allegiance or submission.

Seals of either kind bore a graphic emblem in the center, and featured a heraldic motif, an image of the bearer himself, or in the case of ecclesiastical uses, a saint. Circling the emblem was the seal’s “legend” – often simply “The seal of [the name of the owner]” in Latin or vernacular — or sometimes the owner’s motto.

fish1

Because seals were symbols of power and were used to authenticate a person’s wishes, they were typically destroyed after the owner died to prevent posthumous forgeries. For example, when a Pope dies (and after writing this last week, I should now add “or abdicates!”), the Camerlengo’s first duty is to ceremonially destroy his “Ring of the Fisherman” in front of his fellow cardinals. This signet ring was used by the Holy Father from at least the 13th century until 1842 to first seal private correspondence and then papal briefs. Post-1842 the seal was replaced by a red ink stamp, but a new Fisherman ring is still cast in gold for each incoming Pope.

The fate of the Pope’s Fisherman’s seal would be shared by most other seals used in an official capacity. Except for occasional ceremonial use, modern governments have almost entirely replaced wax seals with the rubber stamp and ink variety.

Wax Seals in Private Correspondence

Using a wax seal in the way we often think of today — to keep a letter closed, ensure it hasn’t been tampered with, and confirm it was indeed written by the supposed sender – was practiced in the Middle Ages, but did not really take off until the post-medieval period. As travel, emigration, and colonization increased, wax seals were not simply applied to keep communication confidential, but as a practical necessity. Before the British and American postal reforms of the mid-19th century, sending a letter was quite expensive; it cost 25 cents in the US to send a letter over 450 miles – quite a sum in those days. Furthermore, postage was based on distance and number of sheets. An envelope would have counted as an additional sheet – doubling the cost – so letter writers used as much of a single piece of paper as possible and then sealed it shut with wax or paste to avoid the extra expense. Envelopes were considered a frivolous luxury.

letter

You can still skip the envelope today by folding and then sealing a piece of paper. Here’s one folding method.

After postal reforms significantly reduced the cost of postage and changed their basis from the number of sheets to overall weight, letter writing became much more accessible to the masses. The volume of letters mailed increased fivefold, and along with this boom, a burgeoning envelope industry emerged. At first they were handmade by stationary clerks, 25 at a time, but these painstakingly assembled envelopes did not include adhesive…the stationery stores also sold sealing wax! The death knell for wax seals did not come until the latter half of the 19th century, as automatic envelope folding machines, and more importantly, pre-gummed envelopes, were developed. With a couple of licks, a letter could be sealed inside an envelope and sent on its way.

Today, using wax seals is as unnecessary as handwritten correspondence, and yet like many old traditions, it is pleasurable to practice, and adds a bit of personal distinction and panache to your communication.

If you’re interested in creating wax seals like the knights of yore, read on, good sir!

What You Need to Create a Wax Seal

supplies

  • Fire source (matches, lighter, etc.)
  • Wax
  • Seal

Choosing Your Wax

Wax Type

The wax types available today mainly differ as to their flexibility or suppleness. Modern wax companies have tinkered with the formulas of old in order to create seals that can make it through the machinated processing used by today’s postal service.

On one end of the spectrum you have traditional wax, made similarly to the wax of centuries past. Traditional wax was designed to preserve confidentially, and thus dries hard, and breaks when you tamper with it. The upside here is authenticity, the downside is that the receiver may not like dealing with the little pieces that break off, and you can’t send this type of seal through the mail (see section “Will My Seal Make It Through the Mail?” below).

On the other end you have seals that are made with a glue gun or even come pre-made with adhesive. These look plastic-y, are very supple and easy to apply, and are designed for mass mailings like wedding invitations. For obvious reasons (using a glue gun, the disappearance of the most fun thing about seals – playing with fire), this type of wax is not recommended.

In the middle are waxes that look close to the traditional variety, but have been formulated to be more flexible so that they can survive mailing.

It may be possible to use regular candle wax, by the way, but because it lacks resin, candle wax will not stick as well on the paper, nor hold up to much handling. It’s not recommended.

Wicked vs Wickless Wax

Traditional and flexible waxes typically come in stick form, with or without a built-in wick. Wickless is the most traditional; wicked the most convenient. With a wickless stick, you must hold the stick of wax in one hand, and the match or fire source in the other, keeping it close to melt the wax. With a wicked stick you simply light the end, and then let the flame go to work in melting the wax. The downside of the wicked stick is that they’re slower in melting the wax and can produce more soot residue, which creates a marbling appearance in your seal that you may or may not like. The downside of the wickless stick, particularly in a traditional variety, is that it takes longer to melt the wax than it does for the match to burn down to your fingers. And the wax can drip onto a disposable lighter. In fact, wax seal enthusiasts actually recommend using a butane torch lighter with traditional wickless sticks to avoid these problems — not a move the amateur sealist will likely take.

You don’t have to go either or on sealing waxes. Use a flexible wax when sending things through the mail, and traditional wax for hand-delivered notes or decorative purposes.

Wax Color

Once you choose the type of wax you want to use, you must choose its color. Red and black are the most traditional for men. In 1891’s Letter-writing: Its Ethics and Etiquette, with Remarks on the Proper Use of Monograms, Crests, and Seals, Arthur Wentworth Hamilton Eaton opines that “no other color but black and red are good form,” and that black is an appropriate color for mourning-related correspondence.

That being said, if you’d like to let your wax seal freak flag fly with green or blue, you go right ahead. You can also do a bi-color seal, by pressing your stamp first into gold or silver “ink” and then into the wax, but I’d say this is a little too fancy pants for a manly letter writer.

My Wax Recommendation

waxes

1) J. Herbin traditional wickless wax, 2) J. Herbin supple wickless wax, 3) Nostalgic Impressions flexible wicked wax, 4) Nostalgic Impressions traditional wicked wax

In research for this post I bought four kinds of wax to try: a traditional wickless wax and a supple wax from J. Herbin, and a traditional wicked wax and flexible wicked wax from Nostalgic Impressions.

Both of the Nostalgic Impressions’ wicked waxes were decent, easy to use, and made nice-looking seals. However, they did produce more soot, and had a tendency to drop flaming pieces of wax onto my envelopes.

I had no luck with the J. Herbin traditional wax – the wax would not melt before even the flame of a long kitchen match had reached my fingers.

My favorite turned out to be the J. Herbin wickless supple wax. While J. Herbin has been around since 1670, I was admittedly skeptical that this wax’s price, twice that of the Nostalgic Impressions flexible wax, would be worth it. But it burned easily with a kitchen match, and produced a rich, really smooth, soot-less seal that made it through the mail like a champ (see below).

Choosing a Wax Seal Stamp

Most seal stamps these days are made with a metal seal – often brass — attached to a handle; the seal can be removed and switched for another. Signet rings (traditionally engraved with a family crest or coat of arms and worn on the left pinky) are also available, but I’d feel a little silly getting one myself unless I had truly descended from some aristocratic Old World family. Although if you do get one, be sure to make guests kiss it when they enter your home.

A variety of seal shapes are available; the circle is the most traditional for men, while the oval shape has classically been the domain of the ladies.

What kind of design should you get on your seal? Again, far be it for me to stop you from getting a dolphin, but traditionally, the accepted designs for a man’s seal were the first letter of his surname, a monogram, or a family crest — if you are fortunate enough to have one. That being said, companies can make custom designs, so the sky is the limit. For correspondence that will circulate amongst the members of a club or lodge, a symbol of the group, like a skull, would be quite appropriate.

When Should I Use a Wax Seal?

Wax seals lend an air of dignity, formality, and distinction to your letters, so use them when that weight is suiting and people will appreciate the touch of personality. They are appropriate for personal correspondence to family and friends, for contacting a traditionally-minded entity like the Art of Manliness, or for inviting someone into a fraternity. They are also definitely a go for love letters, whether left on her pillow or sent through the mail. But affixing one to the check for your water bill, a complaint about your dinner sent to Applebee’s corporate headquarters, or a thank you note for a job interview, may make you seem more pretentious and/or weird than suave.

Will My Wax Seals Make It Through the Mail?

I mailed six letters across state lines to see how well three of the waxes I procured would perform when sent through the first-class mail service. I sent two letters each with seals from the J. Herbin wickless supple wax, the Nostalgic Impressions traditional wicked wax, and the NI flexible wicked wax. For each pair, I asked that one be “hand canceled,” where the stamp is canceled by hand – thus bypassing one of the machines the envelope must pass through on its way to its destination. Here are the results:

  • J. Herbin supple wickless wax: intact
  • J. Herbin supple wickless wax + hand cancel: intact, one edge smooshed
  • NI wicked flexible wax: intact
  • NI wicked flexible wax + hand cancel: intact, missing an edge
  • NI traditional wicked wax: missing 1/3 of seal
  • NI traditional wicked wax + hand cancel: missing 2/3 of seal

So basically, both the J. Herbin and NI flexible seals did well, but traditional wax shouldn’t be sent through the mail (which isn’t recommend anyway, but I figured I’d try), and, surprisingly for some reason, having a letter hand canceled causes more damage to the seal, not less! (I have heard that post offices have widely varying policies on hand canceling, and some don’t actually do it, even when you ask them to.)

When sending a seal through the mail, try to make the seal thinner and uniform, so that edges do not get caught and snagged by machines.

How to Make a Wax Seal

If you’re a beginner, you may want to trace your seal on the envelope/paper before you begin so you have a nice target for your wax drips.

melt

Melt the wax. If using a wickless stick, hold the stick in one hand and the match right at the end of the stick in the other. Place the match and the stick directly over the spot you want to make the wax seal and let the wax drip down.

If using a wicked stick, light the stick and give it a moment to burn. Hold the stick at about a 45 degree angle to your paper, and let the wax drip down.

Allow the wax to drip into a puddle that’s around the size of your seal. Getting black soot in your wax, especially if you’re using a wicked stick, is normal. Some folks like the marbleized appearance the soot lends to darker waxes, but if you wish to minimize it, stirring and smoothing the wax as outlined in the next step can help.

stir

Stir and shape the wax. Using the end of the wax stick (the non-wicked side if you’re using a wicked stick), stir and shape the wax puddle to bring out any air bubbles, give it a uniform thickness, and mold it into the shape and size of your seal.

Create a moisture barrier. If you don’t create a moisture barrier on the seal before you press it into the wax, the hot wax can get stuck on the seal (this is more of a problem with traditional versus flexible waxes). So breathe, lick, or dab the seal on a moistened sponge before plunging it into the wax.

press

Press the seal into the wax. Make sure the letter/design of your seal is right side up. Press your seal firmly into the wax, hold it there for 5-10 seconds as the wax cools and hardens, and then gently remove it. If you meet resistance when trying to pull it up, let it cool further.

Use care. You are playing with fire here, so be careful not to hold the flame too close to the paper, and be aware of flaming drips of wax that can drop from the stick.

finish

Creating wax seals is admittedly pretty fun. Give it a try!

{ 54 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Andy February 13, 2013 at 8:17 pm

I remember receiving wax sealing kits when I was younger. My mother would give them to and I always thought they were pretty cool. I never used them though… maybe I’ll go try and dig one of them up.

2 Stever February 13, 2013 at 8:41 pm

Brings back memories. Somehow, things like wax seals seemed to make more sense back in the late 60′s. Smoke in the room? Check. Swirling, writhing, colors? Check. Arcane, slow, attention-intensive use of time? Check. For the life of me, though, I can’t recall what my seal actually was . . . .

3 Jack February 13, 2013 at 8:42 pm

Very classy and interesting.

4 Xyyme Mogal February 13, 2013 at 9:14 pm

Awesome!!! Thank you so much! I’ve always wanted to know more about these and if they would even make it through the mail nowadays. I’m actually planning on making my own seal by carving it out of wood and making a cast of it then pouring some aluminum in the mold or something to that effect in order to get the final product. This way not only will it have my own signature design, but also all the details of the grains of wood.

5 AJ Garceau February 13, 2013 at 9:15 pm

I got one of these for Christmas and have been waiting to use it. Great Article.

6 Nate February 13, 2013 at 9:27 pm

I haven’t wanted to do this for so long, but just never got around to it. Any links/suggestions on where to go to buy the necessary tools?

7 Helen February 13, 2013 at 9:35 pm

I received a seal and wax kit when I was in high school. A “H” in a beautiful script and red wax. Used it every time I wrote a letter. Wished I had kept it.

8 Leigh February 13, 2013 at 10:01 pm

For my wedding I waxed sealed all my invitations (used Nostalgic Impressions). But I had the inner envelope wax sealed and not the outer envelope, I’m not sure how much of a difference that makes…more experiments!
People loved that personal touch since nowadays barely anyone receives a wax sealed letter.

9 Abraham February 13, 2013 at 10:30 pm

@Nate: Gouletpens.com is my one stop shop for all things wax seal and fountain pen related. I’ve looked all over and they have the best prices around. Plus, on my last order I wrote in the special comments: “Please Draw Godzilla on the box” and they actually did! A surefire way of getting my buisness for life!

I’ve been putting wax seals on my personal corrispondance for about a year now, and while doing so always gets me a positive response from the addressee, the response for the post office is mixed. Sometimes I’ll send one with no trouble and it gets to its destination in the same condition it left in, sometimes it will come back to me saying I owe more in postage because of the seal, and sometimes when I take it in they simply refuse it due to the seal.

Then again the service at my local post office has been so terrible over the last year that the new supervisor came to my house today to personally apologize (I had lodged a complaint after going a week without mail service) and inform me they brought him in to get the place ship shape again.

10 Brandon February 13, 2013 at 10:44 pm

I had always seen wax seals and wondered how they did them, so now I know (Good thing, too. Knowing me, I’d have tried doing it with candle wax and crayons, or some such nonsense.)
As far as a bi-color seal being too fancy-pants, I’m not too sure I believe that. It might be a bit extravagant for everyday correspondence, but I think a gold-ink-on-red-wax seal would be a nice touch on Christmas cards.

11 Brian February 13, 2013 at 10:48 pm

I’ve dabbled with this over the years. For a seal, I use a stamp my grandmother bought when traveling through China, that has my name in English and Chinese. It’s square though, instead of round.

12 George February 14, 2013 at 1:38 am

Great post! I’d like to add something about seals and their use in Asia. In China and Korea the imperial seal was seen as the a legitimizing device of the sovereign’s authority. If the emperor were to lose the seal then this was seen as a sign that he had lost the Mandate of Heaven. In fact, the early part of the Three Kingdoms Period in China (220-280 CE) had rival factions fighting over the Imperial Seal (seize the seal, seize the realm). That seal was actually made by Qin Shihuang in 221 BCE but is now lost.

In Korea where I work, personal seals carry the same legal authority as signatures. All one needs to do is register the seal with a local government office. Of course, this can sometimes cause problems when individuals and companies have to deal with people outside Korea.

Companies in Korea, sometimes operating as mini fiefdoms, also have their own seals. My company actually has a ‘Keeper of the Seal’ whose sole job is to control access to the company’s seal. Contracts and official documents will nearly always carry the company seal, as well as company letterhead and authorised signatures. Bank workers also sometimes use them on those old skool passbooks to confirm a transaction.

13 scy February 14, 2013 at 4:09 am

i have used a wax seal for all my letters since high school in the late 1990s ! i dont write snail mail a lot but it adds something special to my correpondence when i do.

it sounds like it’s having a slight resurgence which is fabulous. I found it difficult to initially find sealing wax & seals.

i’ve always used the wickless variety (the wicked form was to fiddly for me the only time I tried it) and never had a problem or accident!

14 Kelley Wright February 14, 2013 at 6:39 am

To avoid burning fingers and making soot on your seal, get you a small alcohol lamp to melt your wax. They burn clean, and adds another cool and authentic step in the process. Why go through the trouble of acting 18th century and then you pull out a Bic lighter? They sell them here in Germany in the same shops as the pens, stationary, wax and seals.

15 Ryan February 14, 2013 at 7:37 am

It is interesting that you should post this now. For Christmas I crafted some seals for me and my friends. I took and carved the insignia in a short piece of aluminum rod, polished the end up, and attached them to the end of an old chess piece. Since then I have been using it to mark any projects that I create or presents that I give. It is neat feeling to know that no one in the world has a seal exactly like that.

16 Trevor February 14, 2013 at 7:49 am

You could also try to use a melting spoon if you did not wish to use or had trouble with the melting sticks. One benefit of this method is that you do not burn the wax causing black marbling. But, this method is reccomended more for mass mailings rather than a single letter.

17 Tim February 14, 2013 at 7:55 am

Go a step further and have a coat of arms created and have a signet ring made with your unique crest.
http://www.americancollegeofheraldry.org

18 Scott February 14, 2013 at 8:44 am

We sealed our wedding invitations using a candle from the dollar store, a key ring to make it round, and a rubber stamp for the imprint. Everyone I talked to said it made it through the mail (as far as TX to CA) just fine.

19 Paul Radcliffe February 14, 2013 at 9:00 am

I just really enjoyed this post and wanted to say how much I enjoy this site

20 kirk February 14, 2013 at 9:08 am

Very nice article. I’ve always loved the idea of using a wax seal on posted mail but just assumed the post office would throw a fit or the seal would not survive.

Now I just need to get a cool looking seal.

21 Michael February 14, 2013 at 9:40 am

I already use a wax seal for official and formal correspondence for years. It’s a nice classy touch that people love! I recommend doing a few practices before putting it on the actual envelope first.

22 Chris February 14, 2013 at 9:52 am

I used a wax seal on each and every one of our wedding invitations, which went into the mail. Don’t stress over the sorting machines, just ask them to stamp them “hand cancel” and they won’t go into the machine at all. I still use stamps a lot…just used on on my wife’s Valentine’s Day card!

23 alex February 14, 2013 at 9:52 am

What kind of paper do you use there? I like the look of it and have been having trouble finding my own. I did however pick up some kid’s drawing paper the other day which looks great. here’s a link to another project i just found which used it:

http://farmhouseglamdiywedding.blogspot.com/2012/10/project-diy-western-union-save-dates.html

24 Richard February 14, 2013 at 10:01 am

To add to what George has written about above on Asian seals (or “chops” to use a common term), a gentleman might have several seals depending on the type of correspondence (essentially formal, informal, business).

These were not mere rubber stamps, but hand carved from varying materials, typically stone or ivory, and they used a special “seal paste” that is closer to a paint than an ink.

They have the advantage over wax seals of being flat and not lumpy. Better for the Post Office to deal with!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seal_(East_Asia)

25 FlossBoss February 14, 2013 at 10:11 am

Does anyone know where I can have a seal custom made? I would prefer a signet ring, but the stamp would work too.

26 Mike February 14, 2013 at 10:26 am

Just did 180 seals for wedding invitations, a quick tip for the moisture barrier : stick a piece of ice in a zip lock back and rest the stamp on the ice between waxing. The cool temp also helps with the definition of the impression.

27 Antaine February 14, 2013 at 10:31 am

I’ve been sealing letters like this for years (although I’d argue that I have a better and simpler method of folding them into their own envelopes). I prefer a wicked wax because it’s just more convenient. For a seal, I designed my own coat of arms, bought a heavy, blank, silver signet ring, designed my own tools and engraved it myself (not really engraving, more like tapping the image in with a hammer and the tiny tools I’d made). My friends definitely love getting letters from me, and the post office definitely hates processing them!

I do find it best, however, to use a small glue gun with burgundy glue when I’m going to send something through the regular postal process. At least I can be assured of the condition the seal will be in when it get to the other end.

28 Mike Magee February 14, 2013 at 11:44 am

I’ve made of couple of these as rings and as stamps in the past couple of years as custom jobs. There’s something really satisfying about sealing letters this way.

29 Jessica February 14, 2013 at 1:10 pm

Thanks for the comparison of the different waxes. It is nice to know what is unique about each one and how well it survives the postal system.

30 Wade February 14, 2013 at 2:00 pm

I actually used one this morning to seal my Valentine’s Day card to my wife. She bought me a set with two stamps, an Irish Rose and my monogram, some time ago and I just recently found them again.

31 Woelf Dietrich February 14, 2013 at 2:41 pm

This is an awesome article, and timely. My wife recently went on a business trip to Australia and, as a surprise, bought me a seal plate with my initials on and a wax stick. I already have a collection of quills and inks, so this was a nice addition. I’ve always had an affinity for the old ways of doing things, and it includes “stationery”.

Thanks for a really informative article. I think I might reblog this.

32 Kyle February 14, 2013 at 3:06 pm

We decided to wax seal all of our 200 wedding invitations. At 3am we realized it was the worst idea ever.

33 Nick P February 14, 2013 at 4:04 pm

This was a very nice post! I always liked wax seals but have never tried to do one. I am glad to see so many people commenting saying they have used wax seals. I thought this was a lost practice but it seems to be alive. I am excited to give it a try! Thanks Brett & Kate for all the great content!

34 Fr. Paul February 14, 2013 at 4:16 pm

Great article on seals and kudos for using “abdicate”. I also think there is something about taking pride in your family heritage and a seal or coat of arms does just that.

35 Karen K February 14, 2013 at 5:31 pm

Great story.
The stick # 3 I had tried and turns out that it is made in China and basically candle wax. The wax wont stick to any glossy paper.
I switched from using Nostalgic and buy my wax now from the manufacturer in Canada called Kingswax

wax-works made my stamper and I love it, just got a new one in time for Valentines day

36 Fr Matthew Hysell February 14, 2013 at 9:17 pm

You used the word “abdicate” referring to Benedict XVI.

Only a gentleman would know to use this correct word.

Cordially,
Revd Fr Matthew Hysell MA MTh

37 Hunter February 14, 2013 at 11:09 pm

I got a wax seal stamp for Christmas that has my family’s crest, Clan Keith. I also made a little change to it to make it more personnel. Nostalgic Impressions does custom stamps and that is where I got mine from.

38 Hunter February 14, 2013 at 11:13 pm

And for Valentine’s Day, I wrote my girl a love letter and sealed it with a wax stamp. She absolutely loves it. It proves that if the seal is still intact, no one else has possibly read the letter. Works on a real intimate level.

39 Robert February 15, 2013 at 1:00 am

not the main point of this article but, THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A FAMILY CREST!!!!!!
each person should have a unique crest. while there are some crest that are attached to certain stations or positions, the presidential seal or a baron’s crest, those are not a person’s crest but that of office. If you find out you are a direct descendant of some famous person in history with a crest, unless you are the first born son of the first born son of the first born son and so on back to that person you have no right to the crest, and if you use it anyone who knows heraldry will know you have no idea what you are doing.

40 JMac February 15, 2013 at 1:19 am

I have always enjoyed finishing my letters with the Wax and Seal. My friends enjoy this just as much, it shows some time and care has gone into the letter. I wanted to take it one step further and I created my own insignia and custom made one through this website http://www.customwaxnseals.com

So for anyone who is interested I would recommend it. Now everyone knows when they have received something from me!

41 Ilana February 15, 2013 at 1:22 pm

I seal all of my letters with wax. I had actually heard the personal letters should *not* use red or black–red is for business correspondence and black is for mourning-related letters.

I use Nostalgic Impressions wax and have had good experiences with it. I got one order that had the problem you mentioned–the wax itself caught fire and dropped onto my envelope–but I told them about it and they sent me a replacement batch that did not suffer from that problem. Maybe you also got some sticks from a defective batch?

42 Jesse February 15, 2013 at 4:13 pm

I use my great grandfathers seal, and often attach it to the bottom of my letters. I have tried attaching it to the outside of the letters, but that often results in problems. It is an oval. It’s become something of an expectation for people when they get letters to see the closing “By my own hand, and the seal of my ancestors,” (personal correspondence only of course)

43 Jeremy Hammond February 16, 2013 at 2:23 pm

“Lucky enough to have a family crest” ???

The United States has a long, and very accessible heraldic heritage. “Family Crest” is a bit of a misnomer, but anyone can have a personal coat of arms.

More info here: http://www.americanheraldry.org/pages/index.php?n=Primer.Page1

Joining the American Heraldry Society – which is very inexpensive – grants you access to a friendly community of heraldry enthusiasts and artists who would help individuals design coats of arms.

44 Charlie February 19, 2013 at 10:35 am

Very cool post and thanks for writing it. It’s amazing how these are still used today for upscale stationary.

This is a must-know skill for the modern gentleman.

45 Wendy February 20, 2013 at 9:27 pm

I enjoyed reading this article. All to often the old-fashioned way of doing things is put to the wayside. I have never used wax seals before, but now I’m growing interested in adding it to my fountain pen and stationary collection.

46 Bren February 23, 2013 at 9:38 am

Very informative, but I initially clicked through on the headline thinking this was gonna be about wax toilet gaskets. Was slightly disappointed. Maybe next time, Art of Manliness.

47 Biggyrat February 25, 2013 at 12:24 pm

I have been using a wax seal for years on the love letters I write to my wife.

48 Mitch February 27, 2013 at 2:15 pm

I bought a stamp and wax kit from Michaels’ a few years ago and didn’t really know what I was doing other than what I’d seen in the movies. After reading this article, I bought wax and a stamp from letterseals.com. Later, I realized I wasn’t having much success because, like in all things AoM related, you get what you pay for. Other good stores include gouletpens and inknouveau. I bought from letterseals becuase I liked the letter initial stamp they had in stock. Too many other stamps, like those at Michaels’ and some online sellers, aren’t 3-dimensional enough. I think if I wanted a custom design, it would have to be by hand to get a truly good impression rather than the digital look of many “custom” stamps.
Final thought, stationery can be damn expensive. I had the best results just looking at blank wedding invitations/envelopes for a good border and decent paper weight.

49 David Flatau July 16, 2013 at 4:59 am

Trying to purchase small stick of red sealing wax. I live in Exminster, Devon and Exeter is the nearest town.
Would appreciate a shop who sells them. Regards David Flatau

50 DAVE HESLOP August 9, 2013 at 10:35 am

HI GREAT WEB PAGE, WHERE CAN I GET A SEAL MADE WITH MY FAMILY CREST ON IT? THANKS DAVE

51 stephanie August 9, 2013 at 11:56 pm

What is the best paper to use? I used a seal with wicked wax on printer paper and when I went to open the letter the paper ripped. How come? Is it the wax, paper or technique?
Great article though :)

52 John February 8, 2014 at 4:12 pm

Excellent! Enjoyable reading, and educational too. I’ve been a fountain pen user and letter writer for a long time. People still love receiving handwritten letters, and I have one grandchild who has been handwriting letters since she was 10 years old. I just order my wax and seal from gouletpens.com and am looking forward to using wax seals.

53 PhilFromPA March 16, 2014 at 4:27 pm

Thank you for an interesting article. I came to wax seals by way of fountain pens. My monogram all-metal (pewter and brass I think) seal and the cheapest wickless supple wax I can find work perfectly with no wetting or other treatment and on any paper I’ve tried. The long cylindrical wax sticks intended for glue guns offer the most wax for the lowest cost and I stay with red or black colors. I expect a “coin” type seal with a wood handle requires extra cooling or treatment not to stick to the work because of poorer heat-transfer properties. I light my wickless wax to keep drips out of my pocket lighter. I then use the stick to stir the molten wax to size it and extinguish the flame. The minor soot marbling just adds a little more interest when I use red wax. Here’s a tip for re-melting an unsatisfactory seal-—use a heat gun on a low setting. Its output is more focused than a hair dryer’s. To protect my seal during storage or carrying, I use a plastic pill bottle slightly taller and a bit bigger around than my seal, with a plug of foam pipe insulation at the bottom. The result is a perfect case and no damage to pockets or the seal.

54 Colin March 26, 2014 at 11:16 pm

Thank you for your post!

I ordered two of the waxes in your article (J.Herbin & N.I.) with good results. I also tried a Scottish wax and seal from LetterSeals.com. I think I like the finish of this scottish wax better than the J.Herbin, but do have to work around soot in the wax if the flame is too close to the wax.

Will try a glue gun version they have next. I am mustering up my bravery to apply to my wedding invitations in the summer.

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